The law restricts the LAPD’s use of force, but potentially under-trained officers wielding “less-lethal” weapons against crowds can cause drastic harm.
On December 8, 2022, the Los Angeles Police Department held a press conference on “crowd management and crowd control” at large-scale events. In the euphemistic language of LAPD, “crowd control” entails the use of force and arrests. When referring to their presence at large events without the use of force or arrests, LAPD uses the term “crowd management.”
Representatives of LAPD discussed their responses to crowds they deem unruly, and spent much of the day discussing so-called “less-lethal weaponry.” Though LAPD and Chief of Police Michel Moore spoke of the importance of training, many of those handling less-lethal weapons have spent only one day of training on how to use them against crowds.
Less-lethal kinetic weapons describe a large range of projectiles that are designed to hurt rather than kill. Though commonly called less lethal, some have been linked to deaths. They are dangerous to use and become even more so when misused, causing traumatic brain injuries, organ damage, or bone fractures.
Moore stated that “certainly we only have to look back to the summer of 2020 when we saw civil unrest, and civil disturbances, and the escalation of protests, demonstrations that evolved into violence, acts of arson, the attacks on officers and others.” He referred to many of the new policies and procedures of crowd control as “a direct reflection of lessons learned” during 2020.
A Turning Point: Assembly Bill 48
Assembly Bill 48 is part of the updated legal framework regulating the use of less-lethal weaponry. The bill was signed into law in September 2021 and took effect in January 2022. AB48 restricts the use of less-lethal munitions in crowd control situations. Many of the restrictions in law appear to be responses to the criticisms of the police’s treatment of protesters in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
AB48 marked a turning point in the ways police can use less-lethal weapons. According to the law, the use of those weapons is permitted only after repeated audible announcements and “when objectively reasonable to do so.” This means that police must have employed “de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to use of force” when reasonable and those techniques must have failed.
Projectiles must not be fired into a group or crowd and not be aimed at the head, neck, or vital organs. Additionally, officers must minimize the possible incidental impact their use of force may have on bystanders, medical personnel, journalists, or other unintended targets.
In 2020, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, the National Lawyers Guild, and Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Los Angeles that also resulted in restrictions of the use of less-lethal kinetic munitions in crowd control situations. Judge Consuelo B. Marshall put in place a temporary injunction with restrictions similar to those included in AB48, which took effect in April 2021. One month later, Judge Marshall put in place further restrictions, citing increasing reports of LAPD officers firing less-lethal weapons on protesters and media as the reason.
In June 2020, several people lost their eyes after being hit by less-lethal kinetic weapons during the George Floyd protests. Journalist Linda Tirado tweeted that she’d found enough people who had lost an eye during the protests to organize a camping trip for the group.