LOS ANGELES -- When Occupy LA demonstrators recently proclaimed a downtown intersection "our street," police watched as annoyed drivers honked horns and tried to maneuver around gyrating protesters. Officers moved in after the third takeover, telling protesters they had to quit or face arrest. The activists turned around and marched back to camp chanting slogans. That hasn't happened in other cities and may not have been possible in Los Angeles that long ago.
Occupy LA, a 485-tent camp surrounding City Hall, has marched to a different beat in its drum circle after protesters, police and city officials established a relationship based on dialogues instead of dictates.
City leaders are now hoping that peace can withstand what could be its biggest test. The city has given campers a 12:01 a.m. Monday to clear out of the park, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a Friday afternoon news conference.
"We've decided to do things differently here in Los Angeles. We've not stared each other down across barricades and barbed wire," the mayor said at the City Hall news conference. "From the start we've talked to one another and we've listened to each other. I trust that we can manage the closure of City Hall Park in the same spirit of cooperation."
The announcement and the advance warning stand in stark contrast to middle-of-the-night police raids used in other cities.
As camps in other cities degenerated into unrest that led to mass arrests, Occupy LA has remained largely a peaceful commune. Police arrive on site only when called in to investigate petty crimes. Marches have resulted in only about five spontaneous arrests -- the other 70 or so involved protesters who deliberately got arrested to make a political statement.
City leaders are now hoping for a peaceful end to the 7-week-old camp, announcing Wednesday that protesters will be given a 72-hour deadline to leave sometime next week, a tactic that stands in stark contrast to middle-of-the-night police raids in other cities.
"Los Angeles has had a real history of heavy-handed tactics with police," said Richard Weinblatt, a police procedures expert and former police chief. "They're taking a very good approach with this. It's a good political sign."
The strategy perhaps underscores the liberal leanings of a city that has often been known for counterculture movements. But it marks a departure for a police force still striving to emerge from the shadow of the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the Rampart corruption scandal of the late 1990s and the 2007 crackdown at an immigrant-rights rally.
This time, before the first tent was set up on the City Hall lawn, Jim Lafferty, a lawyer who has been representing Occupy LA, said Police Chief Charlie Beck assured him protesters would be left alone if they remain peaceful. Beck promised no surprise raids would be carried out, said Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild's Los Angeles chapter.
Elected city leaders initially embraced the campers. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa handed out plastic ponchos one rainy day. The City Council passed a resolution to support Occupy LA. Officials found an alternate site for a farmer's market the camp displaced.
Protesters have complied with health inspectors' demands for more portable toilets, trash pickup and food sanitation. They've worked to tamp down anarchist inciters who want to provoke authorities.
Organizers have implored riled crowds to keep within the peaceful guidelines of the group and to return to camp when threatened with arrest.
Occupiers say they realize violence is not going to win points in their struggle for greater economic equality. "What is most important is that we win the hearts and minds of the people of this city," said organizer Mario Brito. "We're all going to have to remain nonviolent."
Police have held off making arrests while giving protesters time to make their statement through civil disobedience, such as lying on the sidewalk in front of a Bank of America branch. They've negotiated with organizers to end actions without arrest, and assigned veteran detectives, clad in riot helmets, to man front lines against protesters instead of younger officers who might be more prone to act rashly when baited with name-calling.
Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said officers have set out to build trust. "We really worked hard to establish a dialogue with people at the camp," he said. "We have a command-level officer assigned to it every day. I'm over there three, four times a day, sometimes just to address rumors."
As Occupy LA entered its seventh week, the dialogue started getting strained. City Hall made friendly overtures, offering 10,000 square feet of office space and empty lots for a garden if they would pack up their tents.
Fallout after the proposal was made public caused the deal to be rescinded.
On Wednesday, city leaders took a tougher stance: The camp must go next week, but police said they would give protesters a 72-hour deadline to pack up or face arrest. Remaining protesters will get two chances to change their mind before they are arrested.