Report On La Mesa Protest Turned Riot Finds Police Department Lacking
Speaker 1: 00:00 The killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer and the false arrest of Omari Johnson via Lamesa officer led to social justice protest in Lamesa. At the end of may, the Mesa police responded with tear gas, flash bangs, and bean bags. What was a peaceful protest, turned violent, leaving businesses, burned to the ground and people injured. The city has been taking a close look at what went wrong. Now a consulting group commissioned to find out his reporting. The department was ill-prepared according to their findings officers, lacked training, communication, leadership, and policies that would have likely deescalated the situation. This report comes as the search continues for a new police chief and the city of Lamesa works to create a police oversight board. Karen Perlman, who covers East San Diego County for the San Diego union Tribune. Joins us with a closer look, Karen. Welcome. Thank you. Nice to be here. So what does the report say about how a lack of communication affected the police response during the protests? Speaker 2: 01:02 Evidently there should be an incident command post, and while well, Mesa had one, it wasn't properly staffed. I think for some of the time, the report has found that the way that it was set up was not proper, properly ready for what was, what was coming. Um, they had a Lieutenant who was in charge of it, and I think maybe wasn't quite ready for all the things that were happening and the change over from protest to a more violent uprising of a mob, kind of a mob scene took place. I don't think that the incident command post set up was, was properly, um, was vetted. And they've actually said that they are going to start looking into making change just to that, um, to be better prepared for any other kind of disaster that C that comes forward here. Speaker 1: 01:51 And they also said there wasn't a good plan in place before the protest as well, Speaker 2: 01:55 Right? Yes. There was also a protest the night before on the 29th, the night before the 30th events and the plan, they think they use the same one on the 30th that they did on the 29th. And it's obviously the 30th turned into a lot more than the 29th was a very low key thing with maybe 80 people. The event that happened the next night was obviously many, many times more people than that. So they weren't quite ready for what they needed to have with a comprehensive operation plan. And they were told by the Hillard Heinz group that did the, uh, investigation, that, that information is really important for everybody involved to understand and follow certain protocols and they didn't have that information. Speaker 1: 02:39 Hmm. And what did the report mean when they said there were no deescalation policies in place? Speaker 2: 02:44 Well, I think the city still is working on that. Um, I think some of the things that they've had in the past, uh, not best practices today. So the ways that they were approaching people was probably not the best way, but that was the only way they knew how and their belief going through more training now to be able to properly, uh, deal with things like that Speaker 1: 03:07 Report find that Lamesa police lack the training to respond to a big protein Speaker 2: 03:11 Test. Yes. Um, and they, you know, Lamesa is already taken steps to, to learn how to deal better with that. Um, ongoing training is going to be part of the moves going forward here. Speaker 1: 03:23 Hillard Heinz analyze the department's existing policies as part of this report and said, the department did not have a robust community engagement policy. Here's Chad McGinty of Hillard Heinz take a listen. Speaker 3: 03:36 But some of the things we learned related to that community policing is that the general public seeks to create a more open, proactive and transparent communication between the PD and the community. Uh, they would look for the PD to embrace the creation of the oversight task force. They would look to have the improvement of the departments, community policing they're out there, our community outreach and relationship building. They would seek to have research and implement alternative responses to mental health crisis calls for service. They would look for increased diversity within the department ranks, uh, emphasis emphasize, uh, the escalation as a philosophy and a tactic, uh, deliver training to LMPD that, that focuses on cultural diversity. And lastly, they, they would like to see documented data from field and traffic stops. So clearly the, the community voice, their opinions, we found that, that the written policies and strategies weren't directly aligned to those requests Speaker 1: 04:38 Overall, this evaluation by Hillard Heintze is very critical of Lamesa police from preparation for the protest to its use of force policies. Does it go so far as to blame the police for the injuries and destruction during the protest? Speaker 2: 04:52 It does not, but it does take a very critical look at all the events and how things could have been done better. So while it doesn't out and out, uh, say that, you know, the police was to blame, uh, the police force is to blame that a lot of the things that they had done should have been done a different way, and maybe they could learn from the things that they did, um, without proper background, maybe training that they should have had. Speaker 1: 05:20 What are some of the recommendations for the Lamesa police department in this report? Speaker 2: 05:25 They're kind of neat to look at the use of force policy. Uh, so it's going with current best practices right now. Um, I think they're a little out of date and they are actually implementing that right now, according to the, uh, acting chief while, you know, they're looking for another police chief right now, the two captains are, have been switching off duties as the role of police chief right now. Um, but to get a use of force policy that's, uh, with best practices and more, more community engagement, I think is, is, uh, something that they were talking about more than just their coffee, a cop, uh, which they have on occasion, at least before COVID events, where the community is involved with them. I think the oversight task force and everything will help that a little bit too, but they, you know, they need to get more crowd control training. Um, I think they're working on that too. Crowd control policies, um, obviously communication between the police department and the city and the community. That's something that really needs to be concentrated on. I know they spoke about that the city council members were speaking about that last night. Some of the things that they've heard from the people that they want to see, um, a lot more interaction with the community, listen to what we have to say and, and be much more clear, uh, communicating with us. Speaker 1: 06:42 Hmm. You know, following the presentation of the report during the city council meeting last night, community members had a chance to weigh in what were some of their comments? Speaker 2: 06:51 You know, people did not. The only two people commented at the meeting last night, which I was very surprised about. Um, I, I I've talked to a couple city council members since then about why there aren't so many people talking about it. I think everyone's kind of talked out about it and now the report is out there. Um, I was expecting a lot more people to comments about their findings in the report, but nobody was really, uh, was really out there. Somebody said the, uh, incident that led to the social justice March and the protesting and the violent aftermath was what happened at the trolley station. But that wasn't really discussed in the report. And somebody, you know, made a public comment last night about that very thing, like why this is really what happened and why it happens in Lamesa. And it was sort of like glossed over in the report. And I believe it's probably because there's, uh, you know, outstanding litigation about it. Speaker 1: 07:45 Hmm. And the acting police chief briefly responded to the report, what did he have to say? Speaker 2: 07:50 No, he said, no, they're taking stock of everything that they're doing. And they're trying to update their policies, um, and coordinate with other agencies. I think that they, uh, had other people come in from parts of the County and the Sheriff's departments. And I don't think that the communication was, is up to par. So I think they're going to do a lot of that, uh, extra training with that and extra, um, just to look into how they can improve on those kinds of things, biasness that they might have within the department. Um, just collaborating with other groups to, to learn best practices as they move forward. Speaker 1: 08:26 And, and so what's next in terms of this report and possible reform at the Lamesa police department. Speaker 2: 08:31 So I think that there's going to be a lot of changes with, uh, the way that the community, uh, deals with the police and how the police deals with the community. I think this task force that they named the people last night, also later in the meeting, uh, they actually will have a task force that will be able to provide some oversight and give the community a chance to weigh in on things as, as they move forward. Speaker 1: 08:54 All right. I've been speaking with Karen Perlman who covers East San Diego County for the San Diego union Tribune. Karen, thank you. Speaker 4: 09:01 Thank you so much.