At the Trump disturbance, we saw officers who were not wearing helmets, who didn’t have riot batons, and who clearly weren’t prepared for a riot
We saw police horses with no room to maneuver, Trump supporters forced to walk a gantlet of angry protesters
BY DAN KLEIN
Some protesters believe it’s their job to riot, and they’ll do everything possible to finish the job. A police department’s job is to prevent mayhem from happening through preparation.
In August 1984, I was a rookie Albuquerque cop working graveyard in the Southeast Area Command. At briefing, Sgt. Tkach announced that an APD officer had been critically wounded at Broadway and Stadium. The shooter wasn’t in custody. The entire department was looking for the assailant.
At 11 p.m., a classmate, Dave, and I were dispatched to Sigma Chi and University to assist University of New Mexico police with a large disturbance. We met a UNM sergeant who advised that a crowd of 1,000 partiers was out of control at Yale and Las Lomas.
We walked east on Sigma Chi, and there they were, a bunch of drunks destroying the place. As we stared at them, the first beer bottle was thrown at us. We notified Sgt. Tkach, and 20 minutes later everyone who was available to respond had arrived: 11 patrol officers, five canine officers, Tkach and Lt. Ramirez.
As we formed up, Tkach told us to grab our “bats, hats and masks,” meaning night sticks, helmets and gas masks. The helmets did not have face shields. A veteran officer told us to put our badges in our pockets. He said it was going to get ugly, and rioters would grab at our badges.
Ramirez and Tkach had a plan. He placed all 11 of us in a skirmish line across Sigma Chi. The K9 officers with their barking dogs were behind us. I asked the K9 sergeant why they were behind us. He grinned and said it was to keep us from fleeing.
We marched east, and within a couple minutes, the crowd was in view. Tkach halted us, and Ramirez got on a loudspeaker and told the crowd to disperse. More rocks and bottles were thrown. Something hit Dave on his arm and knocked him flat. I helped him get to his feet. The scene: a drunken crowd that greatly outnumbered us, K9 dogs snapping at our backs, rocks and bottles hitting us. I was scared.
Ramirez then did something brilliant. He announced to the crowd that if their cars were behind us, this would be their only chance to get them before they were towed. About 100 people calmly walked past us, got into their cars and left. Cars, it seems, are important to Americans, even rioting Americans.
The rest of the crowd told us to “fuck off,” so Ramirez had us put on our Army surplus military gas masks. He then tossed a gas canister into the crowd. The crowd cleared away from the canister, except for a one-legged woman on crutches who couldn’t move fast enough. She disappeared in a gray cloud.
Lt. Ramirez looked despondent until Sgt. Tkach shouted at him, “Well, we taught the cripples a lesson!”
For the next five hours, we tossed gas and marched east. The crowd would form up and toss rocks at us, and we would walk backward. By 5 in the morning, it was done. I smelled like tear gas. No arrests were made. The only reason the riot ended was the rioters got tired and the sun was rising.
We’ve had a lot of riots since. Most citizens blame the rioters. But when police know there is going to be a protest, and that protest turns violent, it shows a lack of planning. We pay police to be prepared and to protect lives and property.
At the Trump disturbance, we saw officers who were not wearing helmets, who didn’t have riot batons, and who clearly weren’t prepared for a riot. We saw police horses with no room to maneuver and Trump supporters forced to walk a gantlet of angry protesters. I saw poor planning. APD command did not prepare their officers, and that exacerbated a bad situation.
Anaheim had a larger Trump rally/protest the next day. Pictures showed all officers in riot gear, the crowd held far away from spectators and a quick-reaction force ready to move in. The Anaheim Police Department had a plan, but did APD? Anaheim was controlled; Albuquerque was out of control. We have to learn from this.
The City Council should publicly review the Trump riot so APD can better prepare for the next time, because there will be a next time.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Cheesy, but true.
Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him through Facebook.
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