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Police Foundation Releases Report on 2017 Presidential Inauguration

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
MPD response to protest demonstrations and compliance with First Amendment assemblies examined

WASHINGTON, DC – The Police Foundation (PF) today released its independent review of the Metropolitan Police Department’s interactions with protesters and demonstrators during the 2017 Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2017.

This review follows the Police Complaints Board (PCB), governing body of the Office of Police Complaints, protest monitoring report published on February 27, 2017 regarding MPD’s handling of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration protest demonstrations. The PCB recommended in its report that an independent consultant be appointed to investigate and examine all planning, procedures, and activities used by the Department on Inauguration Day 2017.

Following approval for independent review by the Council of the District of Columbia, OPC contracted with the Police Foundation to examine MPD’s actions in response to the various inauguration protests and demonstrations held that day.  In addition, the PF reviewed MPD’s compliance with their own standard operating procedures in handling First Amendment assemblies and the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004.  

Through data collection, research, interviews, and other review methods, the PF found that an overwhelming majority of MPD officers and assisting officers interacted in a professional manner that aligned with the Department’s policies during the protest demonstrations.  However, when some demonstrators became violent, some MPD officers’ actions were not in compliance with departmental policies and procedures or national best practices, particularly with respect to arrest procedures and the use of force.

The following summarizes the twelve findings the PF outlined in its review:

  • Overall, MPD officers were respectful, professional and adequately balanced public safety concerns with maintaining assembly participants’ First Amendment Rights, in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP 16-01).
  • In some cases when demonstrators became violent, officers deviated from SOP 16-01, failing to control crowds and stop destructive behavior. This contributed to a large number of First Amendment demonstrators arrested who were not directly involved in destructive or violent behavior.
  • Deviation from SOP 16-01 was potentially caused by MPD resources becoming overwhelmed. This includes some officers feeling inadequately prepared to handle the crowds, overworked and understaffed officers, and a lack of planning to efficiently process arrested individuals.
  • Officers unfamiliar with the street grid and not supplied proper equipment to communicate with demonstrators contributed to difficulties in controlling some individuals who became violent, leading to the use of OC spray and sting ball grenades without required audible dispersal warnings.
  • A combination of strained resources, unorganized work schedules and mass arrest numbers further clogged MPD resources, contributing to prolonged arrest processing time and overworked staff.
  • While the majority of MPD officers adhered to SOP 16-01, on multiple occasions the policy was not followed by line officers and supervisors.

The recommendations made by the PF aligned with those suggested in PCB’s Protest Monitoring report on the 2017 Inauguration.  While they recognized that MPD’s policies and procedures adequately outline how to handle First Amendment assemblies, PF’s review recommended that MPD, “...  continue to develop and implement strategies and tactics that protect persons exercising their First Amendment rights, respond to criminal acts, and ensure the public’s safety.”

Summarized, other recommendations include:

  • While SOP 16-01 aligns with national promising practices in most ways, it can benefit from revisions that specifically outline immediate and appropriate response protocols for unexpected occurrences during large-scale events that may threaten public safety. 
  • In preparation for future large-scale events, MPD training should be thorough, incorporate national promising practices for crowd management based on lessons learned, and include any specialized law enforcement assisting with the event. Law enforcement supervisors should be required to attend additional training as well.
  • Resources needed during large-scale events, including PA systems, appropriate number of officers, and strategies for efficiently processing arrestees, should be provided and accounted for by performing adequate research prior to the event.

To view a copy of the PF’s 2017 Presidential Inauguration First Amendment Assembly – Independent Law Enforcement Review, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov. To view PCB’s initial report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov/page/policy-recommendations.