How NOPD maintained the peace during monument removal protests in New Orleans

Superintendent Michael Harrison said the goal was safety of citizens and police. There was a lot of preplanning and meetings with those on both sides.

NEW ORLEANS -- The clash in Charlottesville over the weekend, began with a group of white nationalists protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Counter protestors in favor of the statue's removal, quickly took to the streets as well.

That's when one woman lost her life and 20 others were injured when a car, allegedly driven by a white nationalist, crashed into a crowd of counter protestors.
 
New Orleans had a similar situation earlier this year, but without the death, violence and injuries.

There were people with strong opinions on both sides as well in New Orleans when four similar monuments were removed earlier this year.

So what was the local police strategy to prevent that?

Superintendent Michael Harrison said the goal was safety of citizens and police. There was a lot of preplanning and meetings with those on both sides.

"While the 'Take 'Em Down' side was open for me to meet with them -- I met with them right here in this office on multiple occasions -- we tried to reach out to the other side, but it wasn't as successful," Harrison said.

Expectations and consequences of breaking the law, were clearly laid out.

"And so when we got out there, we would pass literature out to both sides, here's what the law says about carrying weapons, here's what the law says about wearing a mask," he explained. 

Barricade design was strategic, keeping the sides separate, but allowing space for police to step in between if they needed to arrest someone or help the injured. Street barricades were more substantial.

"We used hardened barricades, like big trucks and other hardened pieces of machinery, to block streets so that we couldn't have someone driving a car into a crowd, at least from that direction," Harrison said.

Intelligence and threat gathering with the FBI joint terrorism task force and Louisiana State Police dictated strategy and even dress code. They wore regular uniforms, but were ready to go with riot gear.

"Our intelligence officers were always monitoring social media, along with the state police fusion center, the FBI monitoring social media," Harrison said.

Two NOPD lieutenants were sent to the 2015 Baltimore rioting to see first hand what worked and what did not, bringing back valuable information.

"They went to every command briefing. They were on the front lines for a week. They came back with the benefit of the knowledge, what happened there, what worked, what didn't work," Harrison said.

And New Orleans culture gives NOPD more experience handling crowds. There are second lines 39 Sundays out of the year. Mounted and motorcycle officers most likely get more training than other department in the U.S. and that's in thick dense Mardi Gras crowds and the rain, unlike others.

Think of the quick planning for Lombardi Gras and the NBA All Star game. The chief says "That's just what we do. We're the special event capital of the world."

© 2017 WWL-TV


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