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Charleston Police Did Not Expect Scale of Riots, Resources Overwhelmed

Photo: Live 5 News

By Ray Rivera | October 8, 2020 at 1:14 PM EDT - Updated October 8 at 5:27 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A report and review of the Charleston Police Department’s response to downtown riots in May state that the department did not expect the scale of the riots which led to resources that were quickly overwhelmed.

On Thursday afternoon, the city’s Public Safety Committee held a live meeting discussing the “After Action Review” which evaluated the police department’s response to the protests and riots on May 30 and May 31.

The detailed report, prepared by the police department’s command staff, outlined issues that responding units were having as well as initiatives that the department has implemented and continue to work on as a result of the riots.

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds spoke during Thursday’s committee meeting and said there were many who suffered “very significant losses" and many who were traumatized by the events in May.

“This has been a very challenging learning process for our organization and for our city,” Reynold said. “And the progression for us as will be outlined today has been significant.”

The report states that officers were overwhelmed during the riot, had communications issues, and no staging ground for officers to be briefed after they responded to the riot. The report states officers were never told to not make arrests.

While praising the report, some council members also wanted to hear from people who had their businesses damaged or destroyed.

“It seems to me that a report like this should at least have some inclusion of experiences on the ground by those who were involved involuntarily," said Charleston City Councilmember Mike Seekings.

Police say some changes have been made in the way officers will handle riots in the future if they happen. Those include a single radio channel to communicate and a staging area to brief officers who are responding to the riot.

Assessment report on Charleston Police response to May riots

The 64-page report is broken down into several sections one of which includes the police’s response to civil disturbances which outlined the scale of the riots and the limited resources which were used during the events.

“For this event, CPD did not expect civil unrest on this scale,” the report stated. “Consequently, available resources were quickly overwhelmed and recall was not as effective as the circumstances required. There is, therefore, a need to improve the recall process to maximize the resources available.”

According to the report, the “magnitude and unprecedented nature of the event” meant it took a long time to coordinate and to process prisoners. The Charleston Police Department say they have since implemented an arrest processing team of detectives to ensure a more efficient process.

The report states during the riots officers gave repeated dispersal orders before deploying chemical agents to disperse crowds.

“This method proved effective and CPD should ensure they retain an adequate supply, but not overstock, as the agent loses its effectiveness after a period of time,” authorities said. “Teams should review the process for recording munition use to allow for critical analysis post event.”

Emergency dispatchers received more than 1600 calls

Emergency dispatchers received more than 1600 calls between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on May 30 - May 31 which was nearly twice that of the previous Saturday nights.

The report stated that during the riots, police officers were assigned to 56 burglary or vandalism calls. According to authorities, due to the significant increase in calls, it became necessary to prioritize the order in which limited police resources would be used.

As the evening hours came on, and the riots began, the report states that calls for service shifted away from regular calls to nearly all calls involving riots breaking out. Authorities said businesses were calling for extra patrols while others were reporting looting and vandalism.

“Scared by what was happening, citizens were calling and asking for help,” the report stated. “Others reported shots being fired, while others reported fireworks.”

The report stated that the high call volume during the riot strained police and dispatch resources.

“With the triaged response, some calls were handled without officers being immediately assigned,” the report stated."Other calls were addressed by the presence of numerous officers, and yet others waited in the queue until the higher priority calls were addressed."

Command and Control

Officials with the police department said they had an action plan based on the information they had for the May 30 protest and had units assigned for event.

However, authorities said that the “unprecedented scale and nature of the unrest," which authorities said they had no tangible intelligence on, meant that the department risked being overwhelmed, and in fact led to some problems.

“Command staff—some of whom came in voluntarily to assist—stepped in to undertake unassigned tasks and manage the situation. Inevitably, there was some duplication, since these command tasks were undertaken ad hoc,” the report stated.

The following day on May 31, the department adjusted its command structure to provide a more clear command to organize responses to that day’s riot.

Communication between law enforcement units, headquarters

According to the report, briefing officers going on duty was challenging due to no staging area and due to officers being dispatched as soon as they became available due to the urgent need.

Officials with Charleston police said since the riots, authorities have used a staging manager to designate locations for additional resources to report and received briefings. The report states this should be standard practice moving forward.

Authorities also reported that internal communications to the department from the Public Safety Operation Safety Center were inconsistent. The department said moving forward they will assign someone to assure two-way communication between PSOC and employees.


During Thursday afternoon’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Chief Reynolds said it was important that the city held an “After Action Review” since the department can learn from events like the riots in May.

“This was a significant event. And we must improve and learn from this event so that we continue to have better outcomes,” he said.

The report concluded that the riots were a complex, dangerous and “highly challenging” series of events.

“Indeed, the challenges continue, as CPD is intent on prosecuting the high-level offenders who held the city to ransom with their gratuitous violence and wanton destruction,” the report stated."We continue to investigate these events on a daily basis, and we will pursue prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, both in state and federal courts."

Authorities said many productive changes have been made or are underway following the May riots.

“The Charleston Police Department is much more effective today because of this, and will continue to reflect on its practices and seek out areas for improvement,” the report stated. “Of paramount importance to our organization is building relationships and public trust, and treating individuals with the dignity and respect they deserve, and to which they are entitled. At a time when the police find themselves at the center of national, regional, and local discourse, we are firm in our resolve to serve the community and to engage in model police practices. Our goal is to make Charleston stronger with the help of the people we serve.”

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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