New details emerge on the LA Olympic security plan, and they bode ill for the city’s most vulnerable communties.
Last Tuesday, February 23, 2021, LA’s city councilmembers tacitly acknowledged a danger the NOlympics LA coalition has been warning Angelenos about for years: hosting the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles will bring about a massive expansion of the city and county’s security apparatuses.
The Ad Hoc Committee on the 2028 Olympics and Paralympic Games voted to move forward a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that brings the City of Los Angeles into the California Olympic and Paralympic Public Safety Command (COPPSC). The MOU is light on concrete plans and heavy on bureaucracy. But it’s important, as it represents a first clear look at the structure law enforcement will use to launch an unparalleled domestic mobilization of public and private security agencies.
COPPSC was established in 2019 as a joint “cooperative” between California’s Office of Emergency Services and the LA 2028 Organizing Committee. LA’s Olympic bid book explains that COPPSC is modeled on the command infrastructure established for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. It aims to “facilitate the planning, resourcing, management and delivery of safety and security” for the Olympics. A key purpose of the collaboration is to integrate and facilitate coordination between state, region and city-level law enforcement ahead of COPPSC’s eventual incorporation into a federal-level command structure, called an National Special Security Event (NSSE). Following the full city council and mayor’s authorization of the MOU, LAPD Chief Michel Moore will take up a co-chair position in COPPSC as the city’s representative. Other neighboring cities slated to host Olympic events and select federal agencies will be added into the structure at a later date. One of those agencies is Customs and Border Patrol, which the bid book says will “provide Border Patrol Agents to assist in securing Olympic venues.”
As a multi-year build-up of new and expanding security infrastructure, the consequences of this mobilization will last long after the closing ceremonies.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Paul Koretz hinted at the tension between potential personnel ‘needs’ for the Olympics and current demands to reduce policing. “In recent months we’ve seen cuts to the [Los Angeles Police] Department. We’ve seen calls for reductions […] Is this department stretched too thin? And could it be stretched even thinner by 2028?”
The idea that LA’s police are “stretched too thin” is one that LA Police Protective League (LAPPL) leaders often use in order to argue that LA cannot afford to cut police spending or personnel because it ‘needs’ to maintain or even expand the force ahead of the Games. Last June, the lead officer for Studio City claimed the LAPD needed to grow from roughly 10,000 officers to 13,000 officers by 2028 in order to secure the Olympics. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has likewise used the Olympics as a justification for why his agency also needs to grow. If implemented, these personnel expansions would not be a short-term boost just for the Olympics’ duration. Instead, hiring would begin years before the Games, and there is little reason to expect the expansion would be reversed afterwards.
At a virtual teach-in organized by NOlympics LA last fall, Black Lives Matter-LA’s Dr. Melina Abdullah explained what adding 3,000 officers to a historically and inherently racist institution would mean for the Los Angeles:
“The idea of bringing in more policing to maintain safety — we know that that means safety for some at the expense of all the rest of us. Safety for white affluent communities, for folks who want to roll into our city. And it means less resources, and also more repression, for Black folks, for brown folks, for unhoused folks, for poor folks.”
All of the public comments at Tuesday’s meeting echoed Abdullah’s concerns. Hamid Khan from Stop LAPD Spying told the ad hoc committee that “we’re looking at sacrificing the wellbeing of Black, brown, and poor Angelenos at the altar of economic impact.” Reflecting on how the 1984 Olympics affected LA, he added: “We saw the national security police state using that opportunity to expand oppression, expand surveillance, accumulate new weapons, push boundaries, and justify its violence. We saw how massive sweeps of unhoused people happen. Massive arrests of youth happen. We saw the permanent codification of gang injunctions.”
The specter of terrorism lurks beneath all claims about the ‘need’ for more police. Addressing “all levels of government” and the organizing committee, councilmember and former police officer Joe Buscaino said: “My message to you is ‘don’t police on the cheap.’ And this is why. If you look at the terrorist attacks in Munich in 1972, here in Atlanta in 1996, Beijing 2008, the non-terrorist attack leading up to the Mexico City Games in 1968, 300 protesters killed.”
Buscaino never actually finished that “if” statement. Perhaps he knew he didn’t have to. Just mentioning the word ‘terrorist’ performs an awful lot of work, conjuring up fear of future attacks and justifying calls for more policing and more surveillance. Never mind that Buscaino’s mention of Beijing 2008 presumably refers to alleged plots that China has since used to justify genocidal repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Never mind that Mexico City’s massacre of protestors in 1968, what Buscaino bizarrely called a “non-terrorist attack,” actually demonstrates how the Olympics create conditions for enhanced state violence and repression. As the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition has pointed out, the discourse on terrorism inevitably results in the increased criminalization of Black and brown people.
Ramping up policing and surveillance apparatuses has become par for the course at the Olympics. In another public comment, NOlympics LA’s Anne Orchier recalled how the NSA used the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, also designated as an NSSE, “as an opportunity to basically test drive what it would look like to conduct that blanket indiscriminate surveillance on an entire city.” More recently, for the London 2012 Olympics, the UK deployed 40,000 security personnel, placed ground-to-air missiles on the roofs of London apartment buildings and decked out its capital city with an expanded network of CCTV cameras with facial recognition capacities. Just four years later, Brazil deployed over 80,000 security officers for the Rio Games. Ahead of those 2016 Olympics, police killings spiked, unhoused folks experienced increased harassment and sweeps and protests were met with police violence.
At Tuesday’s meeting a representative from the LAPD said they did not yet know how many security personnel would be needed for the 2028 Games. But the LA 2028 committee’s representative to COPPSC is Doug Arnot, whose resume includes gigs with Rio 2016, London 2012 and Salt Lake City 2002, among other mega-events. His presence suggests LA 2028 is looking to replicate the trend of excessive policing and surveillance operations from these past Games.
Other concerns flagged at Tuesday’s meeting included whether the Olympics’ NSSE designation, which puts the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security in charge of Games security, could put undocumented Angelenos at greater risk of incarceration and deportation. Deputy Chief Robert Marino suggested the federal NSSE structure is initiated “normally a year to two years prior to the start of the Games.” This suggests that ICE and Customs and Borders Protection could have increased authority in LA for over a year prior to the Games. What’s more, with NSSEs in the Los Angeles area planned for the 2022 Super Bowl and 2026 World Cup, federal incursion could come much sooner.
Additionally, Councilmember Paul Krekorian emphasized that Olympic security costs should not be “borne by the City of Los Angeles inequitably,” given many sports events will actually take place in neighboring cities such as Long Beach and Inglewood. Mayor Garcetti and LA 2028 executives have stressed that LA’s Olympics will be entirely privately funded. Krekorian’s comments are an important acknowledgement that this is simply not true. Residents of Los Angeles, California, and the United States will absolutely pay for costs like security (and possibly a whole lot more). Security has run up a bill of over $1 billion at recent Olympics but is not even included in LA 2028’s $7 billion budget.
In short, hosting the Olympics is synonymous with a massive, expensive expansion of policing and surveillance. Such an expansion runs counter to what LA’s Black Lives Matter-led movement is calling for. It runs counter even to what the mayor and the city council committed to in 2020 when they promised to reimagine public security. The Olympics are a convenient excuse for the city to avoid reckoning with policing’s racist foundations; a convenient excuse for the LAPD to expand when even a survey commissioned by the LAPD found that a majority of Angelenos want at least some reduction in policing.
Now that we are finally starting to see concrete plans for the Games, they are exactly what we expected: the sort of expansion and cross-jurisdictional coordination that will lead to suffering for Black, poor and immigrant Angelenos. If we want our city to shift funds away from policing and towards basic needs and services that actually make all our communities safer, Los Angeles simply cannot host the Olympics. The City of LA’s incorporation into COPPSC will be up for a full city council vote this Tuesday, March 2, 2021. You can weigh in directly on the council file, or call in for general public comment to make your voice on the matter heard.