Aaron Landy watched for hours on Saturday night as people on foot and then in cars moved up and down Melrose Avenue looting stores and setting them on fire, doing wheelies in the street and tagging walls with graffiti.
All the while, not a single police cruiser rolled by, Landy said, even though officers were staged in huge numbers not far away, squaring off with protesters.
Landy’s longtime Fairfax neighborhood, it seemed to him, had been completely abandoned to lawlessness.
“Where are the police? They’re nowhere. There’s not a policeman in sight. It’s just like a free-for-all,” Landy remembered thinking. “It was just shocking. I was outraged.”
He wasn’t alone. From the Grove shopping mall and Santa Monica’s business district to downtown Long Beach, television beamed live images all weekend of looters breaking into stores and stealing merchandise — often without officers in sight…
Other longtime residents and business owners, meanwhile, also said the police were in the wrong, but for different reasons. They said they felt police weren’t tough enough with looters on Saturday, sticking to large tactical formations and tracking protesters even as they abandoned other streets to criminals hellbent on filling their cars with stolen goods and torching establishments.
And, some law enforcement officials, current and retired, also criticized the LAPD response, saying it was riddled with flaws — from acquiescing to protesters gathering in huge numbers in a business district like Fairfax, to delaying two moves that would have increased manpower sooner: mobilizing the entire police force into action by canceling off-days and vacations, and calling in the National Guard.
Well into Saturday afternoon, Garcetti dismissed the idea of calling in the National Guard, saying the LAPD had the situation under control and calling on Angelenos and show their “better angels” by avoiding mayhem. He requested the guard enter the city hours later, leading to their arrival in the overnight hours…
Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander, said the LAPD decision to allow protesters access to an area like the Grove and Farmers Market was a miscalculation. Keeping crowds away from vulnerable areas is a key part of crowd control, he said.
“That means place sentries where you don’t want them to go in advance,” Heal said.
He also questioned Moore’s decision to be on the ground in one specific neighborhood, interacting with individual arrestees himself, instead of being in a command center where he could assess the entire picture of protest and unrest across the city.
Being on the front lines can endear a police leader to his officers, but doesn’t make much tactical sense, he said.
“As a commander, you need situational awareness. You need to be able to see the entire events to best manage and decide how to respond,” Heal said. “As a leader, you don’t want to get down in the weeds.”
Councilman Paul Koretz said he spoke to Rick Caruso, the developer of the Grove and a former police commissioner, “before it got as bad as it was,” and Caruso was not happy.
“I would just say that he did not think well of the City Council and the mayor [and] our ability to protect the city and the businesses,” Koretz said. “It is devastating.”
Landy, a 59-year-old filmmaker who had been taking video of the mayhem, ended his Saturday night in the emergency room getting a head scan after being attacked by four men who believed he had recorded them looting stores, he said.
Throughout the night, he said he observed a city that had been left to be destroyed, in ways that were, in his judgment, entirely preventable. A single store would be looted two, three or four times in a row, before finally being set ablaze, he said.
Landy and other locals personally prevented multiple fires that otherwise would have taken off, he said, including by pulling a burning mannequin out of Urban Outfitters. Neither police nor fire officials responded.
“It was just madness. And you were like, ‘Where is a cop? Where is a single cop?’” Landy said. “It was just an absolutely failed strategy.”
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