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Inspector General will review LAPD ArtWalk response

Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

Los Angeles police officers and Occupy LA protesters clashed at July's ArtWalk, leading to 17 arrests and four injuries.

LAPD's oversight agency will review police response to protesters and general crowd control measures used during the July 12 ArtWalk in Downtown Los Angeles. That night ended in what's been widely (and neutrally) described as a "melee" - members of the crowd threw rocks and other items at police, and officers responded with rubber bullets.

The night reportedly went sour when police arrested people who drew with chalk on sidewalks near 5th and Spring Streets. Officers said the chalkers weren't only vandalizing sidewalks,  they were obstructing the sidewalks and forcing ArtWalk patrons into the streets.

At least some of the chalk artists showed up to protest a general police crackdown on sidewalk chalking. Before July 12, police had arrested eight people for chalking at the site of an ongoing anti-gentrification protest outside the offices of the Central City Association. There, police said, protesters were drawing on public and private property, and local business folk had called in to complain.

When police arrested chalkers at ArtWalk, the crowd grew angry, and the "melee" began. LAPD officers arrested 17  people that evening; four police - including one hit with a bottle - sustained injuries. Several people at or near the incident say non-lethal projectiles officers fired into the crowd hurt them.  

At Tuesday's meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission, those in charge of police response that evening— Commander John Sherman and Central Division Captain Horace Frank—offered the department's take on the event.

Sherman and Frank told the Commission that the departmnent will tweak some technical elements of its crowd control response and coordinate better with city agencies that regulate parking and traffic.

Asked about protesters' complaints about excessive force  that evening - and about whether the department learned anything from the incident - Sherman said three separarte personnel complaints are working their way through the system.

 "There was a significant amount of video and some audio relative to that," Sherman said.

"As far as lessons learned," he told the commission, there's "continual development and growth for our agency any time we work with managing crowds. And it is a very sensitive area. But on occasion, we do need to go to crowd control tactics rather than crowd management tactics."

Since July 12, two relatively peaceful ArtWalks have come and gone. On August 9, members of Occupy L.A. hosted an event at Pershing Square that featured quite a bit of chalking but no related arrests. Last Thursday's ArtWalk saw 7 or 8 arrests, police said, all for offenses like fighting and likely related to alcohol. Officers issued an additional 17 citations for drinking in public.

LAPD Commander Andy Smith said Tuesday that the department still regards chalking as vandalism, but police are using their discretion about when they need to crack down against it.

Police Commissioners listened to the command staff's report with interest and decided they want more information.

"Due to the particular significance of this event, I do think it's worth taking an additional step," Commissioner Robert Saltzman said, that being, requesting the LAPD's watchdog agency, the Office of the Inspector General, to review the incident. That office is expected to issue its report within 30 days.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to a policewoman being hit in the head with a drum. That incident actually happened at L.A.'s May Day celebration.

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