The Los Angeles Police Department clearly took the anti-Proposition 187 protests in the San Fernando Valley on Friday seriously, declaring a citywide tactical alert and putting into action training that officers received after the violent civil disturbances of 1992.
Police dispatched more than 200 officers to protest sites. Officers donned riot gear to control hundreds of students gathered at the Van Nuys Civic Center. There were no arrests reported by day's end but authorities described "isolated incidents of vandalism," including sporadic rock and bottle throwing and stealing.
Police used pepper spray on several unruly students and at least one patrol car's window was smashed by unruly demonstrators, police said.
"We're drawing on the civil disturbance training," said Officer Rigo Romero, a police spokesman in Parker Center. "We're not using all our tactics but the principle is the same."
Police, for instance, were armed with shotguns loaded with non-lethal rubber bullets. No shots were fired.
Although student walkouts have been increasing in city schools for a week, the LAPD still appeared to be searching Friday for the best approach to the demonstrations, expected to continue until the Nov. 8 election.
Van Nuys Division Capt. Richard Eide reversed a decision made by supervisors at the Van Nuys Civic Center demonstration site to simply disperse several hundred students back into the street. Instead, Eide, after coordinating with school officials, told officers to order students onto school buses that drove the youths back to campus.
"These are high school kids," he said at the scene. "They are just out having a civics lesson. They have the right to protest. I have no problem with that."
Devonshire Division Capt. Vance Proctor, meanwhile, had devised an approach for Friday's demonstrations that he said he may change in the coming days.
"Today's approach was as long as they were obeying the law, we would allow them to demonstrate," he said. "But clearly we can't have students all over the city leaving school and draining police resources."
But, Proctor said, in the future police may decide to force students to return to school more quickly to free up police resources.
LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams ordered the tactical alert to keep officers on duty in case the protests grew violent. It also allows for officers to move to other cross-town divisions, if needed.
Shortly after the 1992 riots, all LAPD officers began to receive special "unusual occurrence" training aimed at changing the department's image after the days of rioting following the verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial. At the core of the two-day training sessions were specially designed exercises in rescuing victims, dispersing hostile crowds and using tear gas.
Police officials said they were treating anti-Proposition 187 protests as they do other mass demonstrations. But because the demonstrators are school youths, police aimed to direct them back to class.
"Our response has nothing to do with what the protest is about," said LAPD Lt. John Dunkin of the department's media relations office. "Our goal is to maintain public safety, the flow of traffic and limit civil disorder."
Some officers expressed frustration with school authorities for not doing more to keep the student protests from spilling off the campuses.
"Students decided to be truant and the school didn't stop them," said Van Nuys Division Sgt. George Wright. "Most of these kids are not being violent. Since the school administration refused to deal with the children, our policy has been to escort them and keep them from breaking laws and being run over."
In other nearby jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies have also responded firmly to student demonstrators in recent weeks. Officers used special crowd control grenades that scatter rubber pellets to disperse the crowds in Downey and Paramount last week.
The California National Guard, meanwhile, was warned recently of the potential for violence during Proposition 187 protests at the border, said guard spokesman Deirdre Allingham from Sacramento.
Allingham said a memo from the state Department of Justice had warned that the guard should be available if the need should arise. The state Office of Emergency Services asked that the guard conduct a "telephonic response check" to ensure that the lines of communication are open with commanders and key leaders on those dates.
"It's just a way of assessing how easy it is to get in touch via telephone," Allingham said. "We only drill one weekend a month--it's not like a normal business where you're there every day."
The procedure is routine for events in which guard assistance might be necessary, such as during a major fire.
It's a "heads up," Allingham said. "Be aware of the situation and be available."
Times staff writer Myron Levin contributed to this story.
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