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Report Harshly Criticizes Police Response to May 31 Riots, Chronicles Department in "Disarray"

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By Jorge Casuso

May 6, 2021 -- On May 31, 2020, a woefully unprepared Santa Monica Police Department with no action plan or clear leadership was left to improvise a response to violent protests and looting it should have seen coming.

That is the key conclusion of an eagerly awaited report by the OIR Group released Thursday chronicling SMPD's response to the riots that swept Santa Monica nearly a year ago ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

The Independent After-Action Report -- which will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday -- details "the severe limitations of the Department’s original plan, and the disarray that quickly resulted from fragmented leadership and inadequate resources."

The report found that the Department, whose Chief, Cynthia Renaud, was out of town in the days leading up to May 31, had no one clearly in charge and failed to anticipate the protests, violence and looting that would erupt.

Rudderless and confused, the Department tried to slap together a last-minute plan that would be initially executed with only 20 of the 100 additional officers requested.

Support from other law enforcement agencies was delayed and when they arrived "did not know where to report for deployment," resulting in "another breakdown in the cohesion and clarity of the command decisionmaking."

In the end, "the convergence of large protest groups on both sides of the Pier Ramp, several protest 'splinter groups' marching through City streets, and seemingly 'sudden' influx of looters overwhelmed the Department," the consultants wrote.

"It is true, and important to note, that no lives were lost in Santa Monica as a consequence of the May 31 unrest," the 117-page report noted.

"But the vandalism and property damage, the losses to business, the divisive handling of protesters, and the undermining of confidence in people’s basic security were collectively substantial."

The report -- commissioned by the City Council in August -- was based on source material that included meetings with 15 SMPD personnel, internal emails and text messages and footage of body cameras worn by police.

It also included streaming video footage from local media, information gathered from traditional and social media platforms and Twitter feeds.

Consultants also reviewed an internal after-action report prepared with help from a consulting firm "headed by a colleague" of Chief Renaud, who abruptly retired in October shortly after the report was released.

It concluded the Department was unprepared for "three, separate events that converged" simultaneously and "ultimately prioritized life and personal safety" ("Police Chief Shares 'Preliminary Findings' on Response to Riots," October 23, 2020).

"As it turned out, the information provided to the consulting group for review was apparently channeled through the then Chief and one SMPD lieutenant," OIR wrote in its report.

"More significantly, editorial control over the draft report and decisions about what information would be included and which critiques would survive the editing process were lodged within the Office of the Chief."

In a statement issued Thursday, Mayor Sue Himmelrich called OIR's report "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," Himmelrich said.

"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."

Among the key recommendations are increasing greater transparency for outside reviews, developing an operations plan and written protocols in advance and ensuring that key personnel remain in the City.

"This report will provide valuable insights and information associated with the Police Department’s performance during the period of unrest that engulfed our community last year," said Interim Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

"The women and men of the Police Department understand the importance of this report and its recommendations. Equally, we welcome the opportunity to work alongside the newly seated Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission."

The Lookout will provide a detailed summary of the report Friday

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