UCLA removes police chief after protesters clashed over Gaza war

UCLA removes police chief after protesters clashed over Gaza war

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has temporarily removed its chief of police as it probes his officers’ response to a violent melee on campus earlier this month.

UCLA Police Chief John Thomas has been reassigned and will be replaced by UCLA Capt Gawin Gibson.

The campus police waited more than two hours to break up a fight that started when masked counter-protesters assaulted a pro-Palestinian student encampment.

The response at the top university led to intense criticism, including from the California governor’s office, which called the “limited and delayed” police intervention “unacceptable”.

Mr Thomas was reassigned on Tuesday “pending an examination of our security processes,” Mary Osako, UCLA vice chancellor for strategic communications, said in a brief statement provided to BBC News.

The decision to replace him was made by Rick Braziel, the vice chancellor leading the newly created Office of Campus Safety.

“As we said on May 5, UCLA created a new Office of Campus Safety that is leading a thorough examination of our security processes aimed at enhancing the wellbeing and safety of our community,” said Ms Osako.

University administrators did not immediately comment on where Mr Thomas was being reassigned.

The news of the chief’s removal had been confirmed late on Tuesday by the Daily Bruin student newspaper.

“There’s been a lot going on and I learned late yesterday that I’m temporarily reassigned from my duties as chief,” Mr Thomas told the paper.

The violent scene at UCLA earlier this month led to over 200 arrests and forced the school to close campus and switch to remote learning.

It took place only hours after New York City police raided and cleared a Columbia University building taken over by students.

Protests at Columbia against the war in Gaza have inspired similar actions at universities – small and large, public and private – with activists demanding that institutions cut financial ties with Israel and companies profiting from the war.

Mr Gibson, the new interim chief, has worked for the university’s police force for 28 years, according to the Daily Bruin.

On Thursday, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block will testify in Washington DC to the Republican-led House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce.

He will appear alongside administrators from Rutgers University and Northwestern University.

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