Anatomy of Failure: How Charlottesville PD Lost Control

Law enforcement experts are mystified by the passive tactics employed by police in the Virginia city during the Aug. 12 showdown between between white nationalists and counterprotesters. “Every city should be looking at what happened to learn a lesson,” said Charlottesville’s former top cop.

The Washington Post analyzes the failure of police in Charlottesville, Va., to maintain control during the Aug. 12 showdown between between white nationalists and counterprotesters. Despite weeks of planning and warnings to the city manager and police chief that a more aggressive approach was needed, including an appeal from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the local police in charge temporarily lost control of the city as people brawled on the streets. And though a torch-lit march the night before ended with white nationalists attacking college students, city officials said police stuck to a tactical plan that included an insufficient buffer zone between armed white nationalists and their armed opponents.

The police tactics mystified some law enforcement experts. Most dangerously, officers initially deployed without adequate protective gear to break up fighting and were not well positioned to keep the peace. As fights erupted, police stayed back. They stood not between the two opposing groups but behind them and off to the sides. And when they cleared the park where rallygoers had gathered near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, police flushed many of them directly onto the same street where counterprotesters were gathered. “How do you allow two completely divergent and armed groups to come in contact with one another, knowing full well for weeks in advance that there were warnings of violence?” said former Charlottesville police chief Timothy Longo, who now teaches about the use of force by police.