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LAPD’s Crowd Control Policies Reveal Minimal Training on Dangerous Levels of Force

The law restricts the LAPD’s use of force, but potentially under-trained officers wielding “less-lethal” weapons against crowds can cause drastic harm.

Hand holding a projectile for a less lethal weapon in the foreground, LAPD officer in uniform in the background
40-mm foam round (Source: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

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 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 “[d]e-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.

There is currently no direct data on the extent of harm and force that less-lethal weapons inflict on humans, partially because it would be unethical for scientists to conduct targeted experiments that would allow them to collect this data. Medical organizations have had to rely on available data, including those already injured by less-lethal weapons, projections, cadavers, and animal testing.

LAPD’s Arsenal of Less-Lethal Weapons 

LAPD policy also regulates the use of less-lethal chemical irritants, such as CS gas and OC gas, stating that its use is permitted but requires the approval of a commander or higher-ranking official. While LAPD has not utilized any forms of chemical irritants on protesters in many years, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has used chemical irritants on protesters within the city of Los Angeles.

37-mm foam baton rounds, another kind of less-lethal weapon, launch five hard discs and are intended to be used against groups. The rounds are designed to break apart when they hit a hard surface and cause pain to multiple people. Though the rounds are intended to be shot several feet ahead of a crowd towards the ground, LAPD has been caught misusing the rounds, at times aiming directly at a crowd or even individuals and journalists. LAPD states their use is currently “very restricted,” and that they can only be deployed with approval.

LAPD’s use of 40-mm foam rounds is less restricted. The rounds are designed to stop one person by inflicting blunt trauma on them. The round itself is hard plastic, with a foam material at the end. 40-mm foam rounds can cause severe bruising and broken bones and have on occasion been linked to severe disfiguring injuries.

Less Lethal and Even Less Training

According to Robert Quiroz, a trainer with LAPD, officers using 40-mm rounds are “specially trained.” Officers are certified to use 40-mm rounds during regular patrol as part of their firearms training. LAPD spokespeople also told Knock LA that officers take a 6.5-hour course learning “how and who can utilize less-lethal [weapons] in accordance with the law and policy,” including information about the use of 40-mm rounds in crowd control situations.

Higher-ranked officers potentially commanding a team of officers in a crowd control situation take an additional 4-hour course on crowd management and crowd control. An additional six hours are dedicated to “the application of less-lethal force.” And every two years, all officers take eight hours of training to refresh their knowledge about crowd management and crowd control, according to the department.

In each bureau, LAPD is giving some additional training to a group of officers on how to use less-lethal weapons for crowd control. Calling the group “less-lethal cadres,” approximately 100 officers attended the course in 2022. LAPD did not provide details as to the amount of training given to these “less-lethal cadres.”.

AB48 requires officers using kinetic less-lethal weapons to be certified by an instructor approved by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The POST sets minimum selection and training standards for California law enforcement. Courses to become a POST-certified instructor in the use of less-lethal weapons  take only 16 hours to complete. Upon completion, participants are qualified by POST to teach an entire department proper use of less-lethal munitions.

Nearly every “after action report” LAPD compiles recommends more training. Following large-scale police actions like the cleanup in Echo Park or the 1992 Rodney King riots LAPD occasionally commissions these reports., But even when LAPD touts new policies and training, much of it falls to an outside agency issuing a certification that takes less than a weekend to complete.