LAPD Officer: May Day Mistakes Won't Be Repeated Last year's big immigration rally in Los Angeles turned into chaos when police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators and news media. That led to big changes in police communication and media relations — changes that will be put to the test Thursday at a May Day rally in Los Angeles.
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LAPD Officer: May Day Mistakes Won't Be Repeated

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LAPD Officer: May Day Mistakes Won't Be Repeated

LAPD Officer: May Day Mistakes Won't Be Repeated

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away on this May Day. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today, immigrants and their supporters rally in Los Angeles. And the focus will be on the police as much as the demonstrators. The LAPD broke up last year's May Day march with batons and rubber bullets. Officers beat demonstrators and reporters. And all of this was captured on video.

This year, the police say they've learned from their mistakes, and they're ready with gentler tactics.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Today's march will undoubtedly start like last year's, with the usual rallying cry.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

KAHN: However, police insist it won't end the same.

(Soundbite of sirens)

KAHN: After being pelted with rocks and bottles by a small group of agitators, riot-clad LAPD officers used batons and rubber bullets to disperse the thousands who had gathered at L.A.'s MacArthur Park. Officers also moved out the media, many of whom kept filming while being struck by police batons.

Unidentified Man #1: Move her back away from the starboard side or you're under arrest.

Unidentified Man #2: This way. Out of my way.

KAHN: It took the LAPD 24 minutes to clear the park, but it's taken the past year to try and repair the damage.

Deputy Chief MICHAEL HILLMAN (LAPD): What you saw last year was not what we're about.

KAHN: Michael Hillman was immediately tapped by LAPD Chief William Bratton to examine the events of last May Day. The Deputy Chief's 100-page report was delivered to the Civilian Police Commission within five months of the incident. Hillman holds many people responsible for what happened last year, including the agitators.

Deputy Chief HILLMAN: When they started to ratchet up and they started to escalate a little bit, we saw a situation here where I think a lot of lack of training and common sense and command and control really got away from us -primarily command and control.

KAHN: Two senior command officers were reassigned. One has since retired. And 26 officers are under disciplinary review. Hillman says the force, which is still under a federal consent decree, has moved quickly to right what went wrong last year. He says every single officer from desk clerks to the chief of police have since completed crowd management training.

Deputy Chief HILLMAN: We put them through quite a bit of practical exercises that involve mobile tactics, the squad formations, the use of the baton, use of force.

KAHN: And Hillman says the department will also use four recently purchased Phrasealator vehicles, all are capable of broadcasting critical police instructions in several languages, including Spanish. Last year, protestors complained they never heard the police dispersal orders, transmitted in English from a police helicopter hundreds of feet above the park.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

Unidentified Man #3: Ice cream.

KAHN: As an ice cream vendor pulls his cart through MacArthur Park, Victor Narro surveys today's march route. Narro is one of the organizers. He says he's encouraged by the steps taken by the LAPD over the last year and the close cooperation he's had recently coordinating with police.

Mr. VICTOR NARRO (March Organizer): What happened last year should've never happened. And, you know, I think the finger pointing has stopped, and we just want to move forward and have a great event.

KAHN: So does Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in L.A. But she says the images of women and children running scared, dodging rubber bullets still haunt her. She says the LAPD has a larger problem than learning how to peacefully manage crowds. It has to restore confidence in the community.

Ms. ANGELICA SALAS (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights): That is the challenge of this department, to eventually make officers accountable. And until they make officers accountable, then this - we're going to have the same situation.

KAHN: Construction worker Luis Diaz says he hopes today's march won't be the same. The legal resident from Nicaragua says he would hate for the immigrants' message to be overshadowed again.

Mr. LUIS DIAZ: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Diaz says we have to participate if we want immigrants to get ahead in this country.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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