LAPD chief: Occupy L.A. camp shrinking, but arrests inevitable
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday that his department's Occupy L.A. eviction order had reduced the numbers of protesters camped on the City Hall lawn but acknowledged that the LAPD would have to make more arrests to completely clear the area.
Beck told The Times that there were about 150 fewer tents at City Hall Park on Monday than there had been over the weekend. That people were packing up and leaving was a sign to Beck that the city’s strategy for dealing with -- and bringing an end to -- the Occupy camp was working.
Beck was under no illusions, however, that all of the hundreds of protesters who ignored the city’s midnight deadline and remained encamped Monday morning would eventually leave voluntarily. It is inevitable, he and other police officials have concluded, that police will have to remove some number of protesters by arresting them. Beck remained tight-lipped about when he would give the order to move on the camp, saying only that it would be done at a time of his choosing.
“I was as clear as I know how to be that 12:01 on Monday that any time after that people would be subject to arrest and that we would enforce it when it made the most sense … and when it is in the public’s interest and when you can do it effectively and efficiently and with miminal force. That’s what I’ll do.”
When the time does come to close down the encampment, Beck said, protesters would be given an opportunity to depart voluntarily before police begin making arrests. Protesters, however, will not get a lengthy advanced warning of when police would start to clear out the park.
Beck remained hopeful that when all is said and done Los Angeles will have succeeded in avoiding the large-scale, violent confrontations between police and Occupy protesters in other cities.
“There is no doubt that through the powers of arrest we will have to compel some people to leave. My goal is that that’s all we use: the powers of arrest and maybe some assistance of movement. I have no expectation that every person arrested will go gently enough that there will be absolutely no uses of force, but I would like to keep those minimal.” He added that he hoped police would have to use physical restraints only and not resort to more heavy-handed crowd-control tactics such as tear gas, bean bag projectiles or rubber bullets.
The way Sunday night played out, Beck said, left him feeling encouraged that such an outcome was possible. What could have turned into a night of ugly confrontations remained largely calm. Beck credited both his officers -- who were largely a young and inexperienced group -- for using restraint and the predominant attitude of the protesters, which was one of boisterous, but nonviolent protest.
“Everybody, all my folks, didn’t become microfocused. They didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. It was the middle of the night in downtown L.A. on a Sunday. There was very little traffic to disrupt. If there is ever going to be a time and place in Los Angeles where you’re going to have a little leeway, that’s it. So, they utilized that.
"In some cases you see law enforcement get so focused on the letter of the law -- of enforcing no sitting down in the street or something like that -- that they don’t get … that this particular event isn’t harming anyone, so you have a little time.”
-- Joel Rubin
Photo: LAPD officers count tents in front of City Hall mid-morning Monday. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times