SANTA MONICA, Calif. - The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday reviewed an independent report that found problems with how the Santa Monica Police Department responded to May 31 protests and civil unrest sparked by a Minneapolis officer's murder of George Floyd.
The report, which was conducted by OIR Group at the request of the City Council began in October 2020 and was released on Tuesday. The team reviewed emails, texts, audio recordings, body-camera footage and other footage, as well as interviewed participants and observers of the events, held two public listening sessions and targeted listening sessions with the Board of Directors of Downtown Santa Monica and people involved in the Black Agenda for Santa Monica project.
As protests were underway in Santa Monica -- and across Los Angeles and the U.S. following George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis Police Department officer on May 25 -- several stores in the Santa Monica Place shopping center and on nearby Fourth Street were looted, and news footage captured scores of people carrying merchandise and running out of stores that had been broken into.
Many people criticized the police response for focusing on protesters instead of looters, and the destruction of local businesses and city property continued into the night. Law enforcement -- aided by the National Guard – arresting hundreds of people on various charges, including looting, curfew violations, burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
Similar to findings found by three reports that looked at the Los Angeles Police Department's handling of the protests and civil unrest, the OIR report found a "lack of cohesion that undermined the thoroughness and adequacy of SMPD preparations on that Saturday (May 30) night and into the first part of Sunday (May 31) morning."
It also found that:
-- the department's internal dynamics, especially at the command level, were strained and negatively influenced the police's response.
-- the department was delayed in realizing the potential for protests and unrest in the city.
-- the department had incomplete and conflicting information about the scale of protests; and
-- officers deployed tear gas and less-lethal weapons on protesters during a standoff on Ocean Avenue under "circumstances that were internally confused and/or confusing to members of the public."
Regarding unrest in the city, including looting that was happening simultaneous to protests and often by separate groups, the report found that "the department was in reactive mode for hours that afternoon, incapable of addressing the volume and range of unlawful behavior that began to proliferate."
In the aftermath of the protests, the report found that the department and the chief "struggled to find the right balance" between reassuring the community and acknowledging its shortcomings during the protests. It also found that it was "oddly slow" at documenting and evaluating the department's use of force during the protests.
The report additionally found problems with Chief Cynthia Renaud's role, including the fact that she was out of the city until the late morning of May 31, which the report found "undermined the quality of decision-making and adequacy of preparation on the night of May 30."
It also noted that she made a mistake by sending two captains into the field to speak with protesters instead of maintaining "centralized lines of decision-making." Renaud retired in October.
The report's 44 recommendations to the city include:
-- the Chief of Police should make it clear to the department and city officials when they will be out of time and designate an acting chief.
-- the department should have written protocols that ensure a plan is made before potential crowd control situations. This would also establish a chain of command approval mechanism.
-- the department should create a tracking mechanism for less-lethal weapons so it is easy to log how many of which types of weapons were used and by whom.
-- the department should analyze its use of pepper ball launchers on May 31 to determine if it was consistent with department policy and should amend its less-lethal weapons policy to provide further guidance to officers, particularly to guard against injuries to people's face and head.
-- the department should determine if less-lethal weapons and tear gas should be used in crowd control situations.
-- the department should ensure that supervisors follow all dispersal order protocols before deploying any less-lethal munitions.
-- the department should provide additional training in de-escalation tactics, less-lethal munition deployment and contemporary crowd control responses.
-- the department should create a use-of-force reporting policy to better document when officers use force in civil unrest situations.
The City Council will review the report and consider requesting a report from the police department that includes the degree to which it accepts each recommendation and set a plan for implementation. They'll also vote on whether to develop a plan for independent evaluation and public reporting on the status of the police department's implementation of the recommendations.
"OIR Group's independent analysis of May 31, 2020, is an important milestone in providing the transparency and accountability the Santa Monica community deserves. We welcome the after-action report and remain steadfastly committed to learning from it," said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich.
"Going forward, the newly formed Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission will play a role working with the police department to ensure OIR Group's recommendations are implemented. The Council also looks forward to understanding the changes our police department has already made in response to the events of May 31, 2020, what recommendations remain, and how we can support our officers in our continued commitment to provide public safety for all."
Three reports into the Los Angeles Police Department's response to the May and June protests also found a series of problems, including deficiencies in crowd control tactics, planning, command and control, use of less-lethal tools, arrest practices, preparedness and officer wellness.
The reports were reviewed by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, which requested the police department develop a plan to incorporate the three reports' recommendations. The department presented a $66.7 million plan and presented it to the commission, which may take action on aspects of it on May 11. The plan is likely to undergo additional deliberation and discussion.
The Santa Monica City Council can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3tqFH0l.