Local News

Raleigh police spent $1.4M responding to riots in wake of Floyd's death

Posted September 15, 2020 3:35 p.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2020 8:10 p.m. EDT

— The Raleigh Police Department spent more than $1.4 million responding to days of both peaceful and violent protests that occurred in late May and early June, according to a report Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown provided to the City Council on Tuesday.

"While we know that those who live, work, play and learn in our city will clearly be able to say that they've never seen anything like this, that's the same for Raleigh police officers as well," Deck-Brown said.

The protests started as peaceful marches on May 30 to call for an end to systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minnesota days earlier. But they turned violent that evening, with vandalism to buildings, looting and numerous fires set downtown, in the North Hills area and near Triangle Town Center mall. Some protesters threw rocks, frozen water bottles and chunks of concrete at police, and officers responded by deploying tear gas and firing foam bullets into the crowds to disperse people.

The riots marked only the third time in more than 50 years that Raleigh police used tear gas for crowd control, Deck-Brown said. The only two previous times were following the 1968 assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the North Carolina State University national basketball championship in 1974.

Similar riots occurred on May 31 before Raleigh officials put a nightly curfew in effect. Several days of peaceful protests then followed as people across the city came together to begin to repair the damage.

Police responded to 153 burglaries, 71 reports of property damage and six arsons during the unrest, Deck-Brown said. More than 100 people were arrested on charges ranging from burglary to impeding traffic to assaulting a government official, and she said warrants are outstanding for others.

The $1.4 million total cost included nearly $840,000 in overtime pay and another $29,000 in compensatory time. If the $533,000 in regular pay for officers is backed out, the cost for the response would be $903,691.

Fourteen officers were injured during the unrest – Deck-Brown told the City Council the use of tear gas and other deterrents was needed to help protect officers – but all have since returned to duty.

Zainab Baloch, co-founder of Young Americans Protest, which was one of the sponsors of the May 30 protest march, called the department's report "a lot of propaganda."

"The police chief and the police department don’t want to take any accountability for the actions done after the George Floyd protest," Baloch said. "[The chief] downplayed any actions they took against peaceful protesters. ... They didn’t try to stop the destruction of property."

Police inaction will affect downtown Raleigh for months to come, said Kyle Denis, the owner of Apex Outfitters, whose Hargett Street store sustained more than $150,000 in damage from looters during the riots.

"I think that [officers] were given an extremely hard task that night, but their leadership was definitely not good because, from what I witnessed, they were protecting state-owned buildings and city-owned buildings and then they were told to just let the private businesses get destroyed," Denis said.

"We had individuals protecting our store – people I didn’t know," he said, noting police offered no help. "We were in major danger. We had people shooting guns off. We had guns pulled in our face. I was spraying people away with a fire extinguisher. ... I do think that there needs to be some accountability when it comes to those types of procedures."

Baloch said Deck-Brown needs to resign.

"She doesn’t deserve that job. She just doesn’t," Baloch said. "She’s not here to protect the residents. She’s here to protect the officers, regardless of what they do."

Raleigh PACT, a group that wants more accountability from the police department, released a statement Wednesday calling the report "barely more than pages of law enforcement propaganda messaging."

"It’s impossible for a policing institution to perform an unbiased review on itself," Raleigh PACT said. "It’s also crucial to bear witness to how many of the events included in Chief’s report have been disputed by community members on the ground during the week in question."

Deck-Brown acknowledged that the police department has been criticized both by people who said officers went too far in how they responded, such as using tear gas, and by those who said police didn't do enough to protect businesses during the riots.

"Property is extremely important to us. Lives are extremely important to us," she said.

Altogether, according to the report 252 tear gas canisters were deployed on May 30 and May 31. Police also used 257 foam bullets, as well as flash-bangs and smoke canisters to try to break up the crowds, the report states. The total cost of the munitions used was about $12,000.

Deck-Brown acknowledged that a miscommunication about protesters blocking an ambulance on May 31 led to an unnecessary use of tear gas that "created a more agitated crowd that night." The department is still evaluating whether any other uses of the gas were inappropriate, she said.

Communication was a key area for improvement she noted in the report, saying that the quickly evolving situation sometimes led to inconsistent or conflicting messages going out to officers and the public. She also stressed the need for a stronger partnership with the Raleigh community and more trust between police and residents.

"We were not perfect in any of this. We don't do this on a regular basis," Deck-Brown said in a brief news conference after presenting the report to the City Council.

After speaking with reporters for a little over six minutes, however, she walked off as WRAL News' Joe Fisher tried to press her for more information.

City Manager Ruffin Hall said the findings of the department's report will be forwarded to 21CP Solutions, an outside consultant the City Council has hired to review the police actions during the protests. That report is expected to be finished next month, he said.

Deck-Brown said she looks forward to the independent review, saying that and the internal review will help her and her chain of command learn from their mistakes.

WRAL Durham reporter Sarah Krueger contributed to this report.

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