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LAPD to 'actively protect' free speech during Downtown May Day rallies

By Tony Pierce
Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2012, at 11:27AM
Tony Pierce / KPCC

A young man wears a t-shirt with a silhouette of pilgrims at the May Day march in 2010 in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department sent out an unusually long statement to the press Monday night laying out their operation plans to protect marchers' rights.

The statement began by saying that "In the United States of America, all people have a First Amendment right of free speech and assembly guaranteed by the Federal and State Constitutions. The Los Angeles Police Department not only recognizes the right of free speech but will actively protect the people in the exercise of this right. The right to march, demonstrate, protest, rally or perform other First Amendment activity comes with responsibility which includes respecting the civil and property rights of all others. It is the goal of the Department to facilitate lawful public demonstrations in the City of Los Angeles."

The LAPD went on to say that there are five Special Event Permit applicants who have provided the Los Angeles Police Department with information regarding their special event plans," and noted that they will be spread out around the city and will end up at City Hall.

But at the end of the statement the LAPD cited a 12-year-old settlement and reminded the public that they may lawfully use reasonable force to disperse a crowd and arrest participants if it is deemed an unlawful assembly at any point.

Here is that section in its entirety:

AL CRESPO vs. CITY OF LOS ANGELES, FEDERAL CASE NO. CV 00-08869

These mandates originate from a binding settlement agreement arising out of the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and include the following:

Under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is not uncommon for large numbers of people to assemble for the purpose of demonstrating their opinions. At such demonstrations, it is the Police Department’s obligation to protect individuals’ First Amendment rights, maintain order, and protect lives and property. Occasionally, demonstrations become unlawful. In such circumstances, pursuant to California Penal Code Sections 407 and 409, an assembly may be declared unlawful, and all persons present, including members of the news media, may be lawfully ordered to disperse.

The law provides that police officers may use reasonable force to disperse an unlawful assembly and to affect the arrest of violators. The Department’s Use of Force Policy applies to such Actions. The Department’s policies concerning interaction with the news media are described in the relevant provision in Volume One of the Department Manual, the Department’s Emergency Operations Guide, and the Department’s Media Guide.

LAPD will recognize that the news media has a right, without interfering with police operations, to cover events that may result in the declaration of an unlawful assembly and order to disperse;

LAPD will make efforts to accommodate the media reporting obligation; however, such efforts will be made consistent with the LAPD’s primary obligation to maintain public safety and order;

When the LAPD develops an operations plan for an event that involves a public assembly, LAPD, where practicable, will designate an area outside of the anticipated impacted area but within reasonable viewing distance and audible range of the event in which members of the media may assemble;

When selecting the viewing area, LAPD will take into consideration public and officer safety, police tactics, input provided by the news media and the ability of the LAPD to prevent the location from becoming part of the impacted area;

To the extent reasonably possible, the LAPD will try to prevent the news media viewing area from becoming part of any area impacted by an unlawful assembly declaration and order to disperse.

The decision to assume risk of danger involved in covering a public event remains with the individual news reporter making such a decision, provided that any such decision does not constitute a waiver by a reporter of any constitutional or other legal rights.

The selection of the news media viewing area will take into consideration public and officer safety, police tactics, input provided by the news media, if any, and the ability of the LAPD to prevent the location from becoming part of the impacted area. The final selection of the viewing area location will be made by the Incident Commander in charge of the incident.

To the extent reasonably possible and without compromising public or officer safety, the LAPD incident commander will relocate the news media viewing area if, due to changing conditions, the initial area no longer affords the media a reasonable view of the event or becomes a tactical concern for the incident commander;

The incident commander will designate an information officer as part of the incident command system in order to facilitate interaction with the media, and the information officer will be clearly identified at the scene; and

After declaring an unlawful assembly, the LAPD will designate a dispersal route for all persons present, including the media, to use when evacuating the area.

UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY

As was discussed with news media managers and members of the Los Angeles news media committee, the LAPD recognizes the news media’s reporting obligation and will accommodate reporters’ and photographers’ coverage by allowing them to pass through skirmish lines one time. For officer safety reasons, reporters and photographers will not be allowed to pass through the lines multiple times as was explained and demonstrated for those members of the media who participated in the Department’s Mobile Field Force Training.

Should the event be declared an unlawful assembly, the LAPD will immediately notify the media by issuing a Department news advisory using City News Service, Nixle and the LAPD MRS’ regular email delivery service. The Department will make every effort to issue this news advisory prior to the issuance of a dispersal order. In the event this scenario were to occur, media organizations should ensure that this vital information is disseminated to media field crews as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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