Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
CA Limits How Police Respond to Protests. Why Were Bean Bag Shotguns Used at UCLA?
gvw_calmatters
By CalMatters
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 6, 2024

Retired LAPD lieutenant reflects on police response to protests, highlighting excessive force and accountability. (AP File)

Share

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA last week became the latest campus tinderbox to erupt. As the police response unfurled before our eyes, I watched, not as a layman, but from the perspective of someone who has worn the boots that stand between calm and chaos.

Author Profile Picture
Jeff Wenninger

CalMatters

Opinion

I retired as a lieutenant after 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department and oversaw the officers that dispersed protestors and extracted lawbreakers from hostile crowds during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. I have seen instances of legitimate police brutality and excessive force in the handling of demonstrations, and I have also had a hand in combating it.

In 2007, the LAPD faced criticism for its response to a May Day immigration demonstration in MacArthur Park. Officers were seen on video indiscriminately firing rubber bullets into a crowd that included many peaceful protestors and journalists, resulting in numerous lawsuits.

Criticism of these types of police responses has revolved around issues of excessive force and lack of accountability — most recently during the George Floyd protests — which prompted California to enact Assembly Bill 48, a 2021 law that restricts the types of force cops can use when responding to protests.

In short, the use of rubber bullets, bean bag shotgun rounds and tear gas are largely prohibited, except when specific requirements are met. So I was rather shocked to see an officer fire a single bean bag shotgun round into the crowd, pause, then fire another three rounds in rapid succession.

Bean bag rounds are meant for single-target acquisition. They should only be used on an individual engaged in a violent act — not aimed indiscriminately into a crowd.

Admittingly, I do not know what the officer articulated as the rationale for his actions, but I have trouble reconciling the lack of evidence of any threat to life or serious bodily injury to anyone. And if there was, where was the effort to arrest someone, making this application of force permissible under the new law?

These types of actions can dominate the media coverage and public discourse, diverting away from the reality that, on this day, law enforcement overall carried out a measured plan that prioritized the rights of everyone involved.

Cops and Emotionally Charged Crowds

The fact is that a lot of cops are not especially adept at dealing with emotionally charged crowds. When these situations do arise, they are met with a sense of uneasiness, often due to a lack of knowledge of the laws that govern their actions, and being oblivious to how their actions influence the trajectory of the situation.

Policing demonstrations demands decision-making with a special intensity. In any given situation, officers make numerous decisions over the course of an incident. Some of them are intentionally measured and some of them are split-second responses, but all of them need to be made with the knowledge that their “rightness” or “wrongness” may influence the public’s overall perception of the event.

Eventually, we will all know if the legislation caused impactful change in police culture. Law enforcement agencies are required to publish an incident report within 60 days on their website that gives justification for the use of any “kinetic energy projectiles” (such as bean bag rounds or rubber bullets).

Despite historically disguising deficiencies with simplistic excuses or complicated explanations, neither of which are productive, many in law enforcement recognize the need for cultural change to address issues of excessive force and accountability.

Properly addressing inappropriate actions will go a long way in building public trust that has been lost through the mistakes of the past. Acknowledging inappropriate applications of force help demonstrate the ways officers can become more skilled at executing deliberate, intentional actions in accordance with the law — but more importantly, consistent with societal expectations that are better for us all.

About the Author
Jeff Wenninger retired as a lieutenant after 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He helped investigate and adjudicate more than 700 deadly force police incidents. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. 

Make Your Voice Heard

GV Wire encourages vigorous debate from people and organizations on local, state, and national issues. Submit your op-ed to bmcewen@gvwire.com for consideration.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Former ‘General Hospital’ Actor Johnny Wactor Killed by Catalytic Converter Thieves

DON'T MISS

UC Workers’ Strike Spreads to UCLA & UC Davis Amid Free Speech Controversy

DON'T MISS

Celtics Look to Capture Championship, End 16-Year Drought

DON'T MISS

Not Even ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Saves Hollywood From a Terrible Memorial Day Weekend

DON'T MISS

Melinda French Gates Pledges $1B for Women’s Rights Over 2 Years

DON'T MISS

Supreme Court Leaves Avenatti’s Conviction in Place for Plotting to Extort $25M From Nike

DON'T MISS

Popular California Beach Closed After Shark Bumped Surfer off His Board

DON'T MISS

The Latest | Defense Targets Michael Cohen’s Testimony in Closing Arguments in Trump Hush Money Case

DON'T MISS

Taiwan’s Legislature Passes Changes Seen as Favoring China, Reducing President’s Power

DON'T MISS

US Consumer Confidence Rises in May After Three Months of Declines

UP NEXT

UC Workers’ Strike Spreads to UCLA & UC Davis Amid Free Speech Controversy

UP NEXT

Celtics Look to Capture Championship, End 16-Year Drought

UP NEXT

Not Even ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Saves Hollywood From a Terrible Memorial Day Weekend

UP NEXT

Melinda French Gates Pledges $1B for Women’s Rights Over 2 Years

UP NEXT

Supreme Court Leaves Avenatti’s Conviction in Place for Plotting to Extort $25M From Nike

UP NEXT

Popular California Beach Closed After Shark Bumped Surfer off His Board

UP NEXT

The Latest | Defense Targets Michael Cohen’s Testimony in Closing Arguments in Trump Hush Money Case

UP NEXT

Taiwan’s Legislature Passes Changes Seen as Favoring China, Reducing President’s Power

UP NEXT

US Consumer Confidence Rises in May After Three Months of Declines

UP NEXT

Scorned Umpire Ángel Hernández Retires. He Unsuccessfully Sued MLB for Racial Discrimination.

Not Even ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Saves Hollywood From a Terrible Memorial Day Weekend

1 hour ago

Melinda French Gates Pledges $1B for Women’s Rights Over 2 Years

1 hour ago

Supreme Court Leaves Avenatti’s Conviction in Place for Plotting to Extort $25M From Nike

1 hour ago

Popular California Beach Closed After Shark Bumped Surfer off His Board

1 hour ago

The Latest | Defense Targets Michael Cohen’s Testimony in Closing Arguments in Trump Hush Money Case

2 hours ago

Taiwan’s Legislature Passes Changes Seen as Favoring China, Reducing President’s Power

2 hours ago

US Consumer Confidence Rises in May After Three Months of Declines

2 hours ago

Scorned Umpire Ángel Hernández Retires. He Unsuccessfully Sued MLB for Racial Discrimination.

2 hours ago

T-Mobile to Buy Almost All of U.S Cellular in Deal Worth $4.4 Billion with Debt

2 hours ago

Brett Wisely Drives in a Pair of Key Runs as Giants Hold off Phillies

2 hours ago

Former ‘General Hospital’ Actor Johnny Wactor Killed by Catalytic Converter Thieves

LOS ANGELES — Former “General Hospital” actor Johnny Wactor was shot and killed when he interrupted thieves stealing the catalytic converter...

3 mins ago

3 mins ago

Former ‘General Hospital’ Actor Johnny Wactor Killed by Catalytic Converter Thieves

52 mins ago

UC Workers’ Strike Spreads to UCLA & UC Davis Amid Free Speech Controversy

1 hour ago

Celtics Look to Capture Championship, End 16-Year Drought

1 hour ago

Not Even ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Saves Hollywood From a Terrible Memorial Day Weekend

1 hour ago

Melinda French Gates Pledges $1B for Women’s Rights Over 2 Years

Photo of Michael Avenatti
1 hour ago

Supreme Court Leaves Avenatti’s Conviction in Place for Plotting to Extort $25M From Nike

1 hour ago

Popular California Beach Closed After Shark Bumped Surfer off His Board

2 hours ago

The Latest | Defense Targets Michael Cohen’s Testimony in Closing Arguments in Trump Hush Money Case

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend