How the San Luis Obispo Police Department handles protests was the subject of a recent report and discussion by the San Luis Obispo City Council and San Luis Police Department.
The nearly 100 page "After Action Review" looks at the way the police department handled the June 1, 2020 protest in which they used tear gas, pepper bullets, and zip ties to handle the crowd.
The June 1st protest was the first time the San Luis Obispo Police Department used tear gas since 2004. More than 70 protests took place in 2020, but the June 1st event was one of the few that resulted in violence.
Some of the After Action Review included firsthand accounts from protesters, with several saying they felt trapped.
Independent consultant Kari Mansager read some of the comments they had compiled to the council.
"People were climbing over the fountain. We were honestly stuck and asking where do we go and it was really scary. It felt like war. The coughing and tear gas in the lungs it was really scary," Mansager read from one account.
Mansager said one participant in the report told her once they were arrested, their mask was taken from them at the jail. The person also said police officers made jokes about them and their arrests as their charges were read to them.
In a meeting Tuesday night, the San Luis Obispo Police Department and outside consultants discussed how they put together the report, input they received from the state, and steps they plan on taking moving forward to improve.
"As for the events that occurred on June 1st - I'm sorry that they happened. I wish they had not, I wish we had come to a resolution that ended differently and unfortunately it didn't. Part of this process is to look at everything that took place and have continued open dialogue regarding that," said Interim Police Chief, Jeff Smith.
Here are the 10 action items from the report:
- The protesters only had one way to disperse which was to turn around and go back, this is difficult for crowds.
- No city personnel had a relationship with the group protesting and thus no way to communicate with them.
- Lack of proper equipment to make a loud enough announcement.
- Received feedback during independent interviews about the early appearance of officers in riot gear during a peaceful protest.
- Lieutenants needed in the field overseeing the tactical operation.
- There was insufficient sworn staffing to prevent protesters from entering the freeway.
- There was insufficient civilian support staff to assist with traffic control during events.
- Mutual Aid agencies assisting self-deployed and lacked sufficient direction from Command Post.
- Lacked drone pilots and batteries for equipment to staff lengthy events.
- Body-worn camera batteries have a 7-8 hour run capacity on internment use, constant use 3 hours max. Cameras must be docked to recharge.
Police say they are already working on much of the recommendations, like building relationships with protest leaders to stay abreast of when events might take place.
Police say they have purchased a loud speaker, called an LRAD, that will help with address the lack of proper equipment to make a loud enough announcements.
The purchasing of this device was highly contested during public comment of the City Council, with many community members concerned at how damaging the volume of the system can be.
Community members and council members pressed the department as to why the tear gas was used when protesters did not break the "line." Interim-Chief Smith said it was used in anticipation for what could happen with the crowd after several hours of what he says were negotiations.
Many were critical as to how the use of tear gas may have caused people to take off their masks and possibly spread COVID-19.
Several community members called for reducing the police department's budget and staff by 33% and redirecting that money elsewhere within the city's budget.
The council took public comment until close to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night. They plan to continue the discussion February 23rd at 5 p.m.