WRAL Investigates

Law enforcement expert says police needed better plan to keep Raleigh protests from becoming violent

Posted June 11, 2020 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2020 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Protests have spread across the globe in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police last month. While most were peaceful, the anguish turned to anger, and the protests turned dark once the sun went down.

In Raleigh, Charlotte and Greenville, police were out in full force, even when the protests, while loud, were relatively calm. All three cities ended up with violence.

Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis took a different approach.

"Right now, people just don’t want to have police officers in their face, quite frankly," Davis said. "If we don’t have to be out there, then we won’t."

That strategy worked. In Durham’s protests, words were the only weapons – not bricks, bats, batons or tear gas.

Jim Dudley, a retired deputy chief from the San Francisco Police Department, said the low-key approach doesn't always work, however.

"[There have been] some jurisdictions where law enforcement were really hands off and said, 'We’re going to let this thing defuse itself,' and we’ve seen that go sideways," Dudley said.

He pointed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of officers in the beating of Rodney King, when former L.A. Police Chief Darryl Gates sent officers out without protective gear.

While on the force, Dudley handled crowd control for everything from sports championships to the Occupy movement in 2008 and 2009. San Francisco police were prepared for everything, he said, but the public never knew.

"We would keep officers out of sight," he said.

While there's no perfect response to crowd control, Dudley questioned some of the local tactics.

Raleigh had a heavy police presence from multiple agencies, from the city police and the Wake County Sheriff's Office to State Capitol police and the State Highway Patrol. But law enforcement seemed to stand down while the looting was going on.

While all of the agencies said the routinely work together, they also have different policies with their own people calling the shots. WRAL Investigates asked if there was one agency in charge during the May 30-31 protests, and not one said it was them.

Many in Raleigh have questioned why Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin didn’t issue a curfew before looting on May 31, but Dudley said officers did have another option to quell violence.

"If a First Amendment protest devolves into riot or a situation that goes beyond the First Amendment right, that should be part of the plan, where one of the officers reads the dispersal order that this is no longer a lawful assembly," he said.

WRAL investigates asked all of the agencies involved in the Raleigh protests if anyone declared the gathering an unlawful protest on May 30 or May 31 once the violence started. So far, no one has said their officers did.

By declaring the unlawful assembly, Dudley said, true protesters would be given a window of time to leave, and then officers could go after the troublemakers.

"You've got to do a wall-to-wall perimeter, do a sweep and, hopefully, you're sweeping them to another group of officers that are there to collect them," he said.

Based on how the first day of protests unfolded in Raleigh, Dudley said officers were justified showing up the next day in riot gear.

"They’re in a tough position right now," he said about what officers face, adding that he sees no justification for trashing a city.

"For those intent on looting and destruction and saying, 'It’s the only way to get our voice heard,' just consider there is a face or a victim behind every one of these acts," he said.

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