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PART I -- Santa Monica Police Could Have Prevented Looting Spree, Former Top Officials Say
 

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By Jorge Casuso

First of two parts

June 10, 2020 -- The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) was clearly unprepared, initially understaffed and appeared to have no operations plan to stop the violence that struck the city on May 31.

That is the assessment of four former top SMPD officials who helped coordinate some of the Department's largest operations over the past 30 years, including the 1992 Rodney King riots and the demonstrations at the 2000 Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Two of the officials -- retired Police Captains John Miehle and Gary Gallinot -- agreed to be interviewed by The Lookout on the record.

The two other former top officials asked that their names not be used but noted that they received their information independently of each other after speaking with officers currently on the force.

All four officials agreed that Santa Monica should have been viewed as a potential target when the violent protests that started in Minneapolis after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police quickly spread across the nation.

"The first comment I made was, 'Stand by. It's going everywhere. It's coming,'" said Miehle, who retired in 2001 after serving as second in command under former Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr.

The four officials 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.

Gallinot said he watched the looting for hours live on television wondering when the police would show up ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

"I was embarrassed," said Gallinot, who was on the planning team for major events before retiring in 2003. "There was no police response.

"I kept saying, 'They're coming, they're coming,' and no one ever showed up."

A SPECIFIC AND CREDIBLE THREAT

In an interview last Thursday, Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud told the Lookout that the demonstrations and looting were "not expected or predicted."

She added that there was "no specific or credible information that there was a threat to the city" ("Police Did Not Expect Looting, Demonstrations Sunday, Chief Says," June 4, 2020).

Renaud said that during the 1992 Rodney King riots there had been no civil unrest in Santa Monica. But she failed to note that those riots took place in the inner city and that SMPD was on full tactical alert.

All four former officers interviewed agreed there was a threat -- aired both on television and on social media -- that Santa Monica could face the kind of violence that gripped other nearby shopping destinations Saturday night.

Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles' Fairfax District saw protests devolve into the kind of lawlessness and destruction that hit Santa Monica less than 24 hours later.

At The Grove, an LAPD kiosk was set on fire and looters struck the Nordstrom, Nike and J.Crew outlets, while in Beverly Hills' famed Rodeo Drive, protesters broke windows and spray painted buildings.

According to news reports, three SMPD vehicles assisting Beverly Hills police on a mutual aid request were attacked.

One of the Lookout's sources forwarded a Facebook page posted by a Santa Monica officer that reported police had been pelted with rocks, bricks, bottles and a wrench. One of the officers was injured.

In a letter to the City Council this week, Santa Monica resident and business owner Arthur Jeon wrote that he visited a high tech business left untouched by the looters.

"When I mentioned that I was glad they weren’t hit, they said they had a sergeant in the police department who warned them on Saturday," Jeon wrote.

"They had the opportunity to clear the store on Saturday and then armed themselves and protected the store against looters on Sunday.

"Stores all around them, without the benefit of a warning, were mercilessly looted," Jeon wrote.

Miehle said SMPD should have known Santa Monica was a logical target.

"If the Department doesn't have knowledge of what was coming, the intelligence was out there," Miehle said. "And I guess they should have had it."

"Absolutely they should have seen it coming," one former official told The Lookout. "You didn't need intelligence.

"You had real boots-on-the-ground experience of what was going on a few miles from where you were."

WHERE WAS THE OPERATIONS PLAN?

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

Normally prepared by the Chief or top commanders as soon as a credible threat is detected, the operations plan lays out the strategy to police major events.

It covers any intelligence information received, whether backup from other departments is expected and how the operation will be executed, according to a sample SMPD plan provided to The Lookout.

The plan also includes lists of tasks required to support and maneuver units and services, including transportation and medical, as well as communications methods used during the operation.

"There should have been a plan when the officers came in," said Miehle, who was in charge of police operations for the annual 4th of July Fireworks celebrations that drew as many as 400,000 people, as well as the DNC demonstrations and Rodney King riots.

"We were always prepared, we always had a plan," Miehle said. "We had detailed sheets of what everyone was supposed to do."

Gallinot agrees that "it just looked like there was no plan.

"Whatever can go wrong, you always plan for that," he said. "You plan for the worst and hope for the best. If no one comes in, it's a great dry run."

Gallinot said that on Sunday police seemed unprepared for any of the violence that ensued.

"It just looked like they committed to a peaceful demonstration," Gallinot said. "You have to plan for the fact there can be agitators."

City spokesperson Constance Farrell told the Lookout that the Police Department had an operations plan for the peaceful protest that was expected to take place on Montana Avenue at noon Sunday.

In an interview with LA Magazine posted Tuesday, SMPD executive officer Joseph Cortez said a plan was developed that morning.

"So, the [police] tactics that were employed, were all being developed the morning of this planned, peaceful protest in Santa Monica," Cortez said.

One of the former officials interviewed by The Lookout said he was taken aback by the City's comments.

"They only prepared for a peaceful protest when they set fire to police cars in the City of Los Angeles?" the official said.

He said that would be akin to saying, "We thought we were going to a ballet, and it turned out to be a hard rock concert."

Part II -- What went wrong


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