LAPD Praised For Its Approach To Occupy Protesters

In Los Angeles, some Occupy protesters are refusing to leave their camp near City Hall — despite a midnight deadline. The LAPD is being praised for its patient approach to the situation.

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In Los Angeles, Occupy Wall Street protesters remain on the lawn around City Hall. That's despite last night's midnight deadline making camping illegal. Hundreds of protesters spent the night in a standoff with police, but only four arrests were made. Protesters have gone to court seeking an injunction against an eviction. Meanwhile, the LAPD is getting praised for its patient approach.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports now, the police restraint is a big turnaround for a force that recently paid millions of dollars to settle abuse claims by demonstrators.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Despite having his midnight deadline largely ignored, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told MSNBC that L.A. police patience to peacefully remove the Occupy encampment is commendable, especially when compared to violent clashes in other cities.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: The images you've seen across the country have not happened here. We're proud of that. And our officers really conducted themselves in a way that make us all proud.

KAHN: That's quite praise for the LAPD, whose crowd control strategy just a few years ago included beating back journalists and chasing women and children from a pro-immigration rally. The city paid out more than $10 million in damages from that incident, which has come to be known as the May Day Melee. LAPD's less confrontational tactics were put to the test well into the morning hours.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: This is what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Show me what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: This is what democracy looks like.

KAHN: There were so many people downtown. The crowd spilled into the streets, blocking major city intersections. Police politely urged protesters' cooperation.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So we thank you for your peaceful cooperation and your nonviolent cooperation. Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You're welcome.

KAHN: It would be several more hours until officers actually made their move. But despite being outfitted in full riot gear and some protesters throwing objects at them, the cops never entered the park. Many of the protesters removed their own tents. Others were allowed to stay. A handful of people were arrested, and there were no injuries reported. Police Chief Charlie Beck says it hasn't been decided when the overnight camping ban will take effect.

CHIEF CHARLIE BECK: We will enforce that law on our own time schedule, and that time schedule will be based on when it makes the most sense, when we've been able to get the most people out of that park voluntarily, when we've been able get the most people that are homeless in that park to shelter, when it makes sense.

KAHN: Civil rights advocates say such restraint is a welcome reprieve. Longtime local lawyer Connie Rice calls it a 180-degree turnaround from the LAPD of Rodney King beating fame and the Rampart scandal. That notorious cop-drug-corruption case led to a federal takeover of the department, which remained in place until just two years ago.

CONNIE RICE: We've been at war with LAPD for 70 years, and what you're seeing is the end of that war. With the leadership, I'm not going to say the whole force has changed, but what you're beginning to see is the pivot from paramilitary intimidation policing to community partnership policing.

KAHN: Rice credits Chief Beck for a lot of the change. Occupy L.A. protester, who would only give his name as Andrew, says L.A. cops deserve the praise.

ANDREW: They've done better than I thought they ever would. Truly. If they don't come in and raid us, their reputation has been restored.

KAHN: City officials hope such commendations continue, especially after all the Occupy L.A. tents are ultimately removed. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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