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Abstract: When a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers in the famous, videotaped beating of a black motorist stopped for speeding, the decision sparked shock, outrage and, in short order, riot in the city's African-American South Central section. The six days of unrest that ensued left a staggering toll: 54 dead, more than 2,000 injured, and property damage of almost $1 billion. This case describes the law enforcement response to the riot, raising, in effect, the question of whether, through a different type of response, the unrest could have been controlled more quickly and damage and casualties minimized. The case provides, in some instances for the first time, a detailed look at both the plans and responses of specific law enforcement and emergency response units including the LAPD and fire department, the LA County Sheriff's office, and the California National Guard. It describes key assumptions which proved faulty, problematic inter-agency coordination, as well as heroic individual efforts by some within those departments, which helped restore order.
Learning Objective: This case is part of a series of cases developed for the Kennedy School's Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness, a program examining planning for a wide range of public safety emergencies, including potential domestic terrorism. Funds provided by the federal Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.