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UCLA police chief steps down temporarily after criticism over response to protests

The chief of the UCLA Police Department will step down temporarily following criticism over the university's response to campus protests on the war in Gaza, Vice Chancellor Mary Osako said Wednesday.

Chief John Thomas will be "reassigned" while the university completes "an examination" into its security processes, Osako said in a statement. The university named Gawin Gibson the police department's new acting chief on Tuesday, the latest in a series of administrative shake-ups made in the wake of widespread criticism of UCLA's handling of protests on April 30 and May 1. More than 600 faculty members at the university have called for the resignation of Chancellor Gene Block.

Thomas was named UCLA's chief of police in January. He is a former LAPD lieutenant and previously worked as the USC Department of Public Safety's executive director and chief from 2013 to 2022, before joining UCLA.

Former UCLA Police Chief John Thomas UCLA Police Department

On May 5, Block announced he was moving oversight of UCLA police and the Office of Emergency Management away from the Office of the Administrative Vice Chancellor and under a new department called the Office of Campus Safety. The new office is being led by Rick Braziel, a former police chief for the city of Sacramento who will serve as an associate vice chancellor. 

UC President Michael V. Drake – who oversees all 10 campuses within the public university system – announced there would be an independent investigation into UCLA's handling of the protests. The UC system hired security firm, 21st Century Policing Solutions, which is led by national experts on policing and civil rights, according to a statement from UC President Drake.

Demonstrations at UCLA drew national attention on May 1, when more than 200 people were arrested as police officers in full riot gear dismantled an encampment set up on campus by pro-Palestinian protesters. A day earlier, violent clashes broke out at the encampment and some were tear gassed.

LA Mayor Karen Bass called for a "full investigation" into what happened while Gov. Gavin Newsom said his office was "closely monitoring the situation at UCLA" and was in touch with law enforcement agencies. 

Similar encampments have surfaced at universities across the country, from Texas to New York, as the conflict in Gaza has continued for more than seven months. UCLA's protests attracted crowds of hundreds of people, who gathered in the center of the campus before law enforcement officers were called in. Block said he made the decision to call LAPD and other agencies as a safety measure, but that move drew considerable criticism from many in the campus community.

Protesters at UCLA remain the morning after hundreds were arrested at the campus.

More than 900 faculty and staff members from universities across the UC system – including UCLA – signed a petition demanding the resignation of Chancellor Block. Professors and lecturers from several departments spoke out, accusing the police response of being violent and saying the university infringed on students' and other protesters' right to free speech.

"We will not stand by as our students are assaulted and silenced," reads the petition.

On May 9, UCLA professors and other faculty members who signed the petition protested at the campus, some accusing the university of failing to protect students and others saying law enforcement officers had done little to help the situation.

"Many students and faculty were left on the ground bleeding, gassed or concussed while private security personnel and LAPD riot police stood by without intervening," said Michael Cooperson, a professor of Near East Languages and Cultures.

Along with the UC's investigation, LAPD and other law enforcement agencies continue to investigate violent clashes that happened during one evening of demonstrations. On Tuesday, LAPD Assistant Chief Daniel Randolph said the agency was helping UCLA police track down who had attacked pro-Palestinian protesters on April 30. During an LA Police Commission meeting, he said detectives are looking at photographs of that night to identify potential suspects involved in any of the violent crimes committed.

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