Washington, D.C.'s Office of Police Complaints is applauding the early restraint shown by Metropolitan Police Department officers amid taunting and even physical provocation. The independent D.C. agency is tasked with investigating complaints against MPD officers and had only received about a half dozen protest-related complaints as of Monday afternoon.
"When you look at the big picture and understand that there have been literally thousands of police-community interactions over the past two days and really since Friday night, the number six complaints is actually very low," said OPC Executive Director Mike Tobin.
Tobin and four of his investigators have also been monitoring the protests in person to observe police behavior, to make sure it didn't escalate the situation. They're also constantly monitoring news footage and videos or complaints posted on social media.
"They've been very respectful, and MPD has exercised a great deal of restraint in dealing with some of the chaotic situations that they're encountering," Tobin said.
The OPC investigators are wearing clearly visibly neon yellow arm bands with the Office of Police Complaints logo and the label “Assembly Observer.” They've specifically focused on Lafayette Square and the area around the White House, recording police interactions with protesters and monitoring how officers are handling any direct provocation.
"I've lost count of how many times I witnessed taunting of the officers, not even counting actual physical interactions with the officers," said Tobin. "A lot of the training that has been going over the past year and a half, two years with MPD is paying off."
In a news conference Monday, Police Chief Peter Newsham said the District's officers have been working to control the violence and stop the destruction and looting, while at the same time protecting those who are trying to protest peacefully.
"One of the tactics that we are seeing, is that when we do take police action in the large crowds that it agitates the crowds and it becomes very volatile and dangerous for our officers, so we have to balance when we're making an arrest," Newsham said.
Cameras have captured instances of people violating police commands prompting some tense interactions. Newsham said if there is a specific complaint about an officer's behavior, citizens should file a complaint with the department or OPC, adding that all of the officers are wearing body cameras.
The public can file a complaint even if they do not know the officer's name or department, and OPC investigators will conduct research to identify the officer involved. The agency does not have jurisdiction over any of the federal police agencies which responded with force against protesters gathered near Lafayette Square Monday evening.