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As LAPD assesses Echo Park response, Chief Moore says city needs better plan for park closures

Echo Park
LAPD officers push protestors back as a homeless man sleeps in Echo Park.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Department will conduct an internal review of its handling of protests that erupted over the closure of Echo Park Lake and the clearing of a homeless encampment there last month, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday.

In the meantime, he said, city officials should be clearer with the public about what they should expect if another park needs to be cleared. He specifically called on Jose “Che” Ramirez, L.A.'s deputy mayor for homelessness initiatives, to take the lead in forming a more “consistent policy” for when and how public parks may be closed for safety and sanitation concerns related to homeless encampments in the future.

Moore said his intent was not to criticize Ramirez or other city officials involved in the Echo Park operation, which he thought was largely successful in connecting unhoused residents to city services, but to “stress the importance of moving forward as other communities are asking about their park and instances in which homeless individuals are encamped there.”

Moore made his comments to reporters Tuesday afternoon and during the civilian Police Commission’s virtual Zoom meeting Tuesday morning — its first since the closure of Echo Park two weeks ago led to two nights of protests in which LAPD officers clashed with demonstrators along skirmish lines and declared the gatherings unlawful. The department made more than 180 arrests the second night, and several protesters, a photojournalist and a bystander have all claimed LAPD officers badly injured them in the fray.

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Moore said the department will be assessing its strategy leading up to the park’s closure, which he said the LAPD helped monitor at the request of Council Member Mitch O’Farrell and other officials in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, as well as its tactics in the field once protesters poured into the area. He acknowledged that officials had decided not to make the date of the park’s closure public until the night before but did not say who determined that or who was part of the discussions.

The review also will assess the department’s handling of journalists who were covering the protest, some of whom were detained and arrested, and its process for credentialing reporters who cover unrest and other police matters in the field.

O’Farrell has argued fencing off the park was a necessary step to address unsafe conditions at the park and that his office diligently worked to provide hotel rooms and other shelter to people camping along the lake, calling it “the single largest housing event in the history of the city.”

Alex Comisar, a spokesperson for Garcetti, said the mayor considered it a “successful housing operation unprecedented in scale.”

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Comisar said that any similar efforts in other parks would be planned according to the individual circumstances in those communities. “Each neighborhood, public space, and community of unhoused residents is unique — and moving forward successfully means working together to improve conditions block by block,” Comisar said.

The Echo Park operation has sharply divided Angelenos, some of whom excoriated the move, others of whom clamored to replicate it in their neighborhoods.

Homeless activists have denounced the park closure as a forced eviction. Some former residents of the encampment told The Times they had ended up sleeping on sidewalks, and others feared they would wind up there after the end of Project Roomkey, a pandemic-related program that provided hotel rooms to many of the unhoused people moved out of Echo Park.

The closure of Echo Park also has spread concern that other encampments will soon face a similar fate. Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said his group is concerned about the possibility of another park closure.

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Even if unhoused people are offered hotel rooms through Project Roomkey, “the fear is that in a few months’ time, those same folks will be right back on the streets,” White said. “There’s still no real conversation about what’s going to happen to folks” when the program ends.

“An offer of housing isn’t the same as an actual housing unit,” White added, arguing that a general offer may not account for the specific needs of an unhoused person or family. “If you’re using that offer of housing to justify closing an entire space or removing people, I think that’s problematic.”

His group has been watching MacArthur Park, where scores of homeless people have been camping, after park residents told the group they were hearing about new offers of shelter. A spokesman for Council Member Gil Cedillo, who represents the MacArthur Park area, said that outreach to homeless people in the park has been ongoing, but “the park will remain open and the same whether people choose to move indoors or stay under the stars.”

“No bed is conditioned with a threat or planned action against them for staying in the park,” spokesperson Conrado TerrazasCross said in an email.

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The LAPD’s planned “after-action” report comes in addition to several efforts by members of the City Council to gather information about the Echo Park closure. Last week, Council Members Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman sought a rundown of the costs of sending in scores of police as the park was fenced off, citing “tremendous public concern and consternation regarding this deployment.”

O’Farrell, in turn, is pushing for a public accounting of the dangers and damage at Echo Park Lake, through two motions filed on Tuesday. One motion seeks reports from the LAPD and other city departments on safety threats at Echo Park Lake over the last year, including “credible threats of violence to city personnel or property” as officials prepared to fence off the park.

The second motion seeks a report on the damage done to the iconic park, the estimated costs to repair it and a rundown of all personal property that was stored or confiscated when the park was closed, including items that could have been dangerous. Although the council member had previously stated the park had sustained roughly $600,000 in damage, O’Farrell spokesperson Dan Halden said the new motion would ensure “an additional layer of transparency” on the spending.

O’Farrell, who has faced intense criticism over the Echo Park operation, said he also wants the LAPD to walk through its decisions about deploying officers during the closure.

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Moore did not provide a timeline for when the after-action report would be completed. The department still hasn’t produced a promised after-action report on last summer’s protests against police brutality.


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