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By Jorge Casuso

October 23, 2020 -- As rioting erupted in Santa Monica on May 31, police were unprepared for "three, separate events that converged" simultaneously and "ultimately prioritized life and personal safety," outgoing Police Chief Cynthia Renaud said Wednesday.

In a letter addressed "Dear Santa Monica," Renaud, who will retire next Sunday, shared her Department's preliminary findings on the police response to what she said was the first "civil unrest" in the city's history.

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"The events of May 31, 2020 proved to be an incredible environment of competing challenges in the Department's efforts to secure life and safety, properties and businesses," Renaud wrote.

"As officers were responding to address looting calls, they were often redirected by citizens and officers calling for help in the face of physical harm," she said.

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"We found that as officers rid stores of criminals looting, they would leave one location to do the same for another business and criminals would ultimately return to the unsecured businesses to victimize again."

The Department, the Chief said, was prepared for "peaceful protestors exercising their right to free speech" in "multiple locations throughout the city."

It was also prepared for "riotous individuals who infiltrated some of those protests, incited violence, attacked police officers, committed acts of looting and theft, and burned and vandalized vehicles and buildings."

What police were not prepared for were the "massive groups of extremely organized individuals, who were unassociated with the protests, committing highly mobile, well-coordinated looting at multiple locations throughout the city."

That "third new and unexpected" event "taxed the Department's resources in the initial hours of the instigation," Renaud wrote.

"While the Department has response plans and resources in place to mitigate each of these three (events) separately, it was the descension of all three upon the city at the same time that created the true crisis."

Renaud's brief update comes less than two weeks after the City hired a consulting firm specializing in law enforcement oversight to investigate the Department's response to the riots.

OIR Group will be paid $75,000 to provide within 180 days "a written narrative of facts regarding those events" and "an independent evaluation of, and recommendations regarding, the City’s response."

The hiring of the Playa del Rey based firm came four months after the City Council first directed staff to probe SMPD's response ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

The Department's preliminary findings outlined in Renaud's letter add little to the widely disseminated reports of the rioting captured by local television crews, surveillance cameras and cell phones and to subsequent interviews with the Chief.

An investigation by the Lookout found that the Santa Monica Police Department was clearly unprepared, initially understaffed and appeared to have no operations plan to stop the violence (PART I -- Santa Monica Police Could Have Prevented Looting Spree, Former Top Officials Say," June 10, 2020).

The assessment was based on interviews with four former top SMPD officials who helped coordinate some of the Department's largest operations over the past 30 years.

All four officials agreed that Santa Monica should have been viewed as a potential target after violent protests spread across the nation, including in Los Angeles and in upscale Beverly Hills and the Melrose District.

They also agreed that the Department seemed unprepared for the bands of violent outlaws who swarmed into the city, looting 76 stores and damaging a total of 220 businesses, most of them in the Downtown area.

The lack of coordination in the police response, the four former officials said, indicates the Department either had no operations plan or the plan was inadequate.

With the full force deployed early on and an operations plan in place that anticipated potential violence, the unruly protests and rampant looting could have quickly been contained, the former officials agreed.

Regular updates on the progress of the after action report will be shared at santamonica.gov/May31afteraction.


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