Hours after rioters took to the streets in Baltimore — throwing rocks, looting and setting police cars and businesses ablaze — LAPD commanders sent out a department-wide alert:
All Los Angeles officers not working undercover assignments were ordered to show up for their shifts in uniform, a move designed to enhance police presence. They also were instructed against riding alone in their cars.
“What happened in the city of Baltimore is not going to happen here,” one high-ranking LAPD official told underlings Tuesday. “At the first sign of trouble, I want to see an immediate response.”
The unrest more than 2,600 miles away followed the burial Monday of Freddie Gray, whose spine was partially severed while in police custody. How that happened remains under investigation. In addition to the property destruction, at least 15 Baltimore officers were injured, six seriously.
Police in Cleveland, St. Louis and New York, all of which in the recent past have seen protests over police use-of-force cases, said they were not doing anything special because of the Baltimore violence.
In Los Angeles, Tuesday’s call for swift action was tempered by roll-call instructions for officers to avoid unnecessary confrontations — a yin and yang policing philosophy no doubt informed by lessons learned from the 1992 Rodney King riots that erupted 23 years ago Wednesday.
“What we are telling our folks is we need to treat people with respect. It is part of our core values, but we are emphasizing it goes a long way to avoiding trouble,” said Deputy Chief Bill Scott, the department’s ranking officer in South Los Angeles.
Scott, who was dispatched from the Valley to patrol South L.A. during the ’92 riots, said he has told today’s young officers that dealing with dissent is part of wearing the uniform.
“People will voice their opinions about the police. They will voice their frustrations,” Scott said. “But … you cannot take it personally.”
For weeks, Scott said, officers in South L.A. have been conducting community outreach after a series of controversial police shooting across the country, including that of Ezell Ford. The mentally disabled man was fatally shot by LAPD officers last year after he tried to grab one lawman’s gun, police say.
There have been numerous protests seeking charges against the officers involved. Criminal and internal LAPD investigations are underway to determine whether the shooting warranted charges or violated department policy and was worthy of disciplinary action.
On Monday evening, about 10 people gathered at the spot in South L.A. where Ford was killed — to seek justice for him against the backdrop of the unfolding Baltimore riot.
“They were just paying tribute to Ezell Ford. They were behaving, and we had some clergy talk with them,” said Capt. Jorge Rodriguez, who commands the LAPD’s Newton Division. “We are fine with them exercising their 1st Amendment rights.”
As the night progressed, some of the protesters marched a dozen blocks south to the 77th Street station, where six demonstrators became unruly and were arrested.
Unlike LAPD officers, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies routinely do their patrol duty alone. Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that he had no immediate plans to change that practice, but would consider redeployment “as the need arises.”
The department did open its operations center Tuesday to monitor developments across the country as well as locally.
At the sheriff’s station that abuts South L.A., Lt. Ed Alvarez said that the officers injured in the Baltimore melee were on his deputies’ minds.
“Obviously, officer safety for us is always paramount, but we have a great rapport with the community here,” Alvarez said. “We’re hoping — based on that great relationship — that things will continue to be peaceful and safe for all.”
Times staff writer Tina Susman in New York contributed to this report.