This blog post originally appeared on Behind the Badge OC.
On Wednesday, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center in Orange County, CA, to cover the Donald Trump rally for Behind the Badge OC — not really the rally itself but the demonstration and police response.
The night before in Albuquerque, N.M., there was rioting at a Trump rally that resulted in arrests and property damage.
Demonstrations are difficult to manage and are as much art as science. When you are dealing with human behavior there often are too many variables to try and account for every possible scenario.
Police response is always dictated by individual and crowd behavior. Oftentimes it is only a small number of individuals who cause the problems.
I was there most of the day May 25 and got to see a lot of the preparations taking place. Hundreds of police officers from throughout the region responded to the call for mutual aid.
It wasn’t overkill.
With unorganized and leaderless groups brought together through social media connections, you never can really predict how many people will attend or what their intent will be.
The Anaheim PD definitely was playing it safe.
Officers were deployed on foot and in patrol, motor and mounted units — and even in the air. I was certain the officers visibly present were just a small representation of the total number of officers that would be available if needed.
Protesters were handed out flyers laying out the “Protest Expectations.”
I liked the line, “Do not engage in any activity that would promote violent behavior or cause a fight.”
The protest group was small to start and outnumbered by media throughout most of the day. One thing was obvious: The media presence definitely incited the crowd to perform. It made me wonder if the media were not present would there have been so much activity?
Agitation grew a bit when a street evangelist decided to use his megaphone to preach eternal damnation for the unrepentant. A squad of officers was able to extricate his small group from the crowd.
The protestors were on the younger side and frustratingly inarticulate about their reasons for protesting. It was frustrating for some of the protestors who were passionate about their disdain for Trump.
Eventually, the protesters numbered several hundred. For all the shouting, things seemed to be going fine until a few Trump supporters leaving the arena felt it necessary to express support for their candidate in the middle of the demonstration.
You could see the frustration of the officers on the perimeter.
Once again, the media swarmed to capture every moment of the heated words being exchanged. This motivated the crowd to get even louder.
The masked brigade of demonstrators was getting larger. Now, why would you wear a mask to a protest? Hmmm.
With the crowd now really wound up, a large presence of Orange County Sheriff’s Department Mobile Field Force deputies arrived on scene and began to deploy. Additional mounted officers arrived and took positions on the street.
There is something very intimidating about a 1,500-pound horse — especially when a cop is in the saddle.
The mounted teams included officers from all over Southern California. The farthest I saw was from Santa Barbara County. The horses seemed rather bored by all the commotion despite a few protestors who were yelling right in their faces.
The training the mounted team receives was evident throughout the day. From what I saw, they performed flawlessly and their impact on crowd control was significant.
It was getting time to end things before things got too far out of hand.
The air unit eventually blared out it was time to leave and that this was an unlawful assembly and people were subject to arrest. No one moved. If anything, they seemed to get louder.
A short time later, the line of officers moved forward and started trying to motivate the crowd to move. Thus began the long, slow process of pushing the demonstrators forward.
Stop, give them time to move back. Move forward. Stop and repeat.
It was a constant command, “Get back, get back!” This command was followed by more announcements about this being an unlawful assembly.
The police line parted briefly to allow an elderly demonstrator using a walker to pass through. Last I saw of him he was seated in the shade taking a break.
Some demonstrators were arrested. The arrests were made so quickly and with such precision the arrestees didn’t seem to have time to process what had happened.
The line of officers would part, a group would sprint out, they would grab someone and quickly bring them back behind the line.
The protesters would respond with outrage but it seemed to thin out a bit more and they walked just a bit quicker in the opposite direction.
The farther the protestors got pushed back away from the location the more the crowd dispersed, leaving behind only the most dedicated and confrontational of the group.
I left before the crowds were fully dispersed. I was sunburnt, dehydrated and hungry.
Additional officers were deployed throughout the area to deal with the remaining protestors. It would eventually be hours later before they could fully disperse the crowd.
This morning, May 26, I heard there were 16 arrests and it was almost 9 p.m. before the officers stood down. Apparently, the protestors got a second wind.
This morning I heard the protest described as violent and chaotic on news reports. I didn’t see anything close to that.
In my opinion, it was a job well done by all the law enforcement agencies involved.
Joe Vargas is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at [email protected].