When protests broke out in Los Angeles over the Israeli invasion of Gaza, police decided that officers at the scene should not immediately wear riot helmets out of concerns the gear might escalate passions among the demonstrators. The Los Angeles Times says the decision has generated controversy after a protester hit an officer with the wood post of a protest sign during a march. The officer, who was not wearing a helmet, crumpled to the ground and was taken to a hospital after complaining of dizziness.
The incident has drawn complaints from other officers and the Police Protective League about the LAPD’s policy of limiting when tactical gear is worn during demonstrations. There has been running disagreement within the police department about when and where to deploy so-called tactical gear (in police parlance, “hats and bats”) and whether the equipment officers wear can itself change the dynamics of a crowd. Some argue that for those exercising free speech, the gear is intimidating and anxiety provoking, suggestive that police are poised and primed to battle it out with the crowd. To officers, helmets, face guards, gas masks, and vests are protection, basic necessities that stand in the way of injury should anything go wrong while dealing with large groups of people.