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LAPD tactics get more aggressive as arrests soar

People arrested for curfew violations in Hollywood on Monday. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
LAPD officer Decote watches for people tossing debris from tall buildings as dozens of protesters are arrested for curfew violations on Broadway on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

After days of looting and vandalism and a barrage of criticism for failing to stop it, Los Angeles police have significantly increased their presence in affected neighborhoods and deployed more aggressive tactics to arrest those responsible for burglarizing businesses.

Police also have enforced overnight curfews to sweep streets clear in startling, militaristic shows of force, at times without any apparent effort to distinguish between passive bystanders and those engaged in crime.

“When violence escalates, including assaults on officers, arson, widespread looting ... the department needs to resort to a stronger message,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the civilian Police Commission on Tuesday.

“We are not going to stand for looting,” said Asst. Chief Robert Arcos, in a separate interview. “We are doing all we can to make arrests immediately.”

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The shift in strategy, as witnessed by those who have broken curfews in recent nights, contrasts with what was seen earlier in the weekend, when officers allowed looting downtown and in the Fairfax area to go unchecked for hours as they squared off with protesters.

The new approach has been hard to miss, with officers in riot gear chasing down looters with their arms full of merchandise as protesters and neighborhood residents rushed to avoid the fray. But only time will tell whether the crackdown reduces the amount of looting.

One thing is clear: It’s contributed to an ongoing surge in nightly arrests.

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Since Friday, nearly 3,000 people in Southern California have found themselves in handcuffs amid the protests of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the use of excessive force by police against black people across the country.

The bulk of those arrests have taken place in Los Angeles, where authorities took about 2,500 people into custody between Friday and Tuesday morning after a mix of peaceful protests and property destruction in downtown, the Fairfax District, Van Nuys and Hollywood.

Given the department had confirmed upwards of 1,600 arrests had taken place over the weekend, that suggested more than 800 people were arrested Monday night, the most yet for a single night of unrest.

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Santa Monica and Long Beach police arrested an additional 475 people during largely peaceful protests that were also overshadowed by looting on Sunday.

Booking records reviewed by The Times show the vast majority of those arrested in Los Angeles County for looting, vandalism and burglary offenses are from here, seeming to refute perceptions of “outside agitators” coming in to fuel unrest.

Police leaders say their more aggressive tactics in recent nights were made possible by the National Guard’s presence and the LAPD’s decision to mobilize its entire force, giving them more manpower. They also say the shift has prevented what would have been much wider damage and reduced the danger posed to surrounding residents and business owners.

The get-tough tactics have been demanded by many residents and merchants, who said they were shocked at watching unchecked looting both in person and on live television without police anywhere in sight.

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Anastasia Azaryan, 39, on Tuesday was painting the words “we are open” along with her family restaurant’s phone number in big lilac letters on the wooden boards covering the front of Kebab and Pizza Time in Van Nuys.

Her business was looted Monday. She said a protest nearby started peacefully. Some people had come to her asking if they could have drinks.

“Are you a protester?” She asked. When they said yes, she allowed them to take free drinks from her fridge.

But then, the situation became more aggressive. A group took almost her entire inventory. Others then shoved and smashed tables and chairs.

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She delivered five boxes of her hamburgers to police officers in Van Nuys and North Hollywood and returned to the restaurant to paint her sign.

“The police did excellent job,” she said. “We are all proud of them.”

Protesters, however, have alleged widespread abuses and wrongful detentions.

Kath Rogers, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in L.A., said her office had received 110 requests for legal assistance from people arrested since Friday, with many claiming police were unprepared to process the number of people they were putting in handcuffs for violations of dispersal and curfew orders.

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People complained of being held in “flex cuffs” or left on buses for up to six hours at a time, only to be cited and released for minor violations, Rogers said. Some said they had not heard a dispersal order or were unaware of curfews that had been hastily announced late in the day.

“One arrestee told us they were thrown to the ground and kicked in the head. Many said they were hit by rubber bullets,” Rogers said. “Some people have specified that despite no violence or instigation by the protesters …. they were struck by batons.”

In one incident that was aired live on Instagram and went viral online, a person walking down Hollywood Boulevard filming looters late Monday was suddenly confronted by armed officers with their guns drawn.

“Get on the ground!” the officers screamed.

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“I’m sorry, I swear. I swear I didn’t do anything,” said the person filming.

“Shut the f--- up,” screamed an officer. “Don’t f---ing move … Hands behind your back!”

“I swear I didn’t do anything. I swear. I’m not … I’m just letting you know because I’m scared,” said the person filming, dropping to the ground at gunpoint.

On the officer’s radio came the voice of a commander: “Units on Hollywood Boulevard, you should not be driving past anyone. Stop where you are and take someone into custody.”

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The person, streaming again from home later, said they were eventually given a citation.

Attorneys, legal observers and some of those arrested in Santa Monica over the weekend decried the tactics of responding officers, who they say seemed more focused on rounding up peaceful protesters than disrupting those looting or damaging buildings.

Steve Doaty, 22, said he traveled from Woodland Hills to Santa Monica to take part in peaceful demonstrations on Sunday. But he and a group of about 30 demonstrators said they found themselves surrounded by police at 6th Street & Colorado Avenue, where Doaty says there were looters damaging property nearby.

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“I pointed at the rioting and I pointed at the looting and I said, ‘Hey, what are you gonna do about this?’ And they said nothing,” Doaty said of the officers.

Doaty said he never heard a dispersal order and was unaware of the county’s hastily ordered 6 p.m. curfew. Doaty says he was arrested for a curfew violation, but never read his Miranda rights. He was placed on a bus and taken to the Santa Monica airport, where he said he was held for almost three hours before being released. The police had taken his wallet, phone and keys, but a police officer told Doaty he would have to pick them up at Santa Monica police headquarters the next day.

Santa Monica police did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.

Police officials across the region have released only general information about who was arrested, and why. The Times has requested specific information about arrests from each city where looting and protests have occurred, and received only a partial response from the LAPD. Long Beach officials promised to provide information “shortly.”

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A review of booking records available to The Times shows 575 people have been arrested between Friday and Tuesday on suspicion of crimes likely related to violence during the protests — including looting, robbery, vandalism, burglary and attacking police.

The records do not provide figures for people arrested on curfew violations or for failing to disperse, meaning those arrestees were cited and released by police on the same day.

In addition to crimes like looting, Moore said the department will investigate every complaint of police misconduct. Already, internal affairs officers are working around the clock.


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