The San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) defended its use of tear gas and firecracker-like devices to disperse a crowd of more than 200 protestors Monday evening.
SLOPD Chief Deanna Cantrell addressed the tactics used to disperse the crowd in a press conference Tuesday.
“No police chief, no police officer, no community member wants what happened yesterday to happen,” Cantrell said. “I’m not talking about the protest, we get protests all the time. … Those protests have been amazing, but in large part that is due to the community members that are involved in those protests.”
Cantrell said that police officers supports peaceful protest in San Luis Obispo.
SLOPD tried to contact the organizers of the protest prior, but Cantrell said it was difficult to identify them as the protest was not organized by a singular group such as RACE Matters SLO or the NAACP.
“We had many, many warnings on social media about looting … we had many posts that the protest on Monday was not going to be peaceful,” Cantrell said. “Specifically, there was in particular that said, ‘It’s time for an aggressive and violent demonstration.’”
Cantrell said a dispersal order was given at 7:14 p.m. for “unlawful assembly.” Many people dispersed or moved to the sidewalk, but there were people who did not, Cantrell said. This resulted in four arrests.
Around 8:09 p.m., protestors moved through the police line to stand on the other side of Walnut, meaning that there were protestors on both sides of the police line.
That was when the order was given to use pepper balls, which are paint ball-like bullets with pepper spray in them. Cantrell said they were shot on the ground and in front of people to get protestors to move.
Protestors threw bottles, rocks, fireworks and other objects at the officers. This led law enforcement to throw tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“The purpose of that is that it requires no physical touching on the part of law enforcement,” Cantrell said. “It goes out, it’s irritating to folks and they disperse, and that’s exactly what happened.”
It was the safest way to disperse the crowd after hours of negotiating with protestors, Cantrell said.
Police officers were deployed throughout the night and responded to several incidents of vandalism downtown. Suspects for vandalism were arrested, Cantrell said.
University Police Department assists
The San Luis Obispo Police Department requested mutual aid response from every San Luis Obispo County law enforcement agency to respond to protest activity, which includes Cal Poly Police. The university provided two officers to assist, University Spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.
Under mutual aid agreements, departments agree to provide additional officers as needed when other agencies require additional response to address emergencies and provide for safety of the public.
It is unknown whether Cal Poly Police officers released tear gas or other riot equipment to disperse protestors Monday.