Long Beach Police Chief Describes May 31 Response to Protests and Looting


LONG BEACH (CNS) - As police brutality protests were taking place in major cities across the country, the Long Beach Police Department on May 31 prepared for an anticipated few hundred people to demonstrate outside of its headquarters -- but thousands marched and the result was “six hours of chaos,'' police Chief Robert Luna said in remarks published today.

The marchers in the downtown area were protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. But while the march was mostly peaceful, looters and vandals struck numerous locations around the city, the Long Beach Post reported.

From about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. that evening, Long Beach officers scrambled to gain control as outside police agencies and the National Guard were called to help. By sunset, police were firing less-lethal rounds to disperse crowds as people threw rocks and water bottles at officers, the Post reported.

“That was six hours of chaos,'' Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said on Tuesday at a Public Safety Committee Meeting where he gave City Council members his most public accounting yet of his department's preparedness.

Long Beach police have faced criticism for not doing enough to protect businesses from damage and looting that night. Tuesday's meeting was a chance for Luna to give a “lessons learned'' overview and brief the committee's three members: Suzie Price, Al Austin and Daryl Supernaw.

Price, the committee chair and an Orange County prosecutor, asked why police initially stood down as looters were seen on television running off with merchandise.

“One of the biggest concerns was from people who were watching on TV and seeing police officers not making arrests,'' Price said.

Luna said police should have moved to stop the looting, but supervisors in the field were concerned about officers' safety.

“There was no order from the top not to make arrests, but the supervisors on scene didn't feel that it was safe to do so at the time,'' Luna said. “Those are things that are being debriefed, and they were corrected. And if that happens again right now, tonight, I can almost assure you, that would not occur again.''

Luna said police didn't start making arrests until around 7 p.m. The department in hindsight could have “done better,'' he said.

Luna said officers overall did an excellent job, with more than half of the department's 800 officers deployed that day, handling a 171% surge in calls for service.

“Our priority that night was preservation of life, so our biggest win was not having anyone get critically injured or killed, but our biggest disappointment that night was feeling that we failed our individual business owners, and that was not a good feeling,'' Luna said.

In Tuesday's public safety meeting, the department also gave an overview of its use-of-force tactics, noting that use-of-force cases have dropped significantly in recent years as the city has added funding for body cameras and training.

Over the past five years, overall use-of-force incidents have dropped roughly 30% from 493 in 2015 to 340 last year. Officer-involved shootings dropped from nine in 2015 to three last year.

However, serious use-of-force cases still disproportionately involve Black residents, analyses have shown, according to the Post.

Luna said the city should be proud of the investment in its officers and the decrease in force.

“The numbers are showing that it's working,'' Luna said.

Photo: Getty Images

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