Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks believes the popular Twilight Concerts have become a safety hazard following a possibly record crowd for the opening show of the 2017 season.
The Chief said the events have grown beyond the capabilities of local agencies and she has requested a security analysis from the Department of Homeland Security to help guide security plans at future shows.
After the June 22 show, headliner Khalid sent out a message on social media. “Last night, around 60,000 people came out to see me in Santa Monica for the free show at the Pier. Breaking records. The Staples Center holds around 21,000 people. People all over California drove hours to come out, to sit in traffic for hours before and after, all off of good energy,” he said.
Seabrooks said her estimate for crowd size was similar. The Pier deck housing the concert can hold between 5,000 and 7,500 people depending on the configuration of an event. The Pier itself can hold several thousand people due to weight constraints on the structure itself. She said the deck reached capacity quickly and with additional people crowding the Pier and at least 40 – 50,000 people on the nearby beach, it was easily one of the biggest crowds to gather for a show.
The Chief said the crowd size jeopardized public safety and that while nothing serious happened during the show, police or fire officers would have been unable to help a victim if someone were in distress.
“Over the years we have diligently, police and fire, worked to ensure safe ingress and egress for emergency vehicles (on the beach),” she said. “The crowd size was so big and with the tideline change toward the latter part of the evening, those safety zones were eliminated.”
Fire Chief Bill Walker said he was on the same page as Chief Seabrooks. “If we can’t get access to people, that’s a concern,” he said. “The ability to control that crowd and that movement, it’s beyond our control because we’re overwhelmed and over numbered.”
About 160 police officers are on hand during the events as are 13 fire inspection personnel and three EMT teams.
According to Seabrooks, it wasn’t just the density of the beach crowd that posed a problem. At Thursday’s show, an overflow crowd briefly knocked down a barricade near the entrance to the Pier on Ocean Front Walk and when Khalid appeared on the roof of the Loof Hippodrome building, the crowd surged in a way that was dangerous to those on the Pier. While private security was able to quickly reestablish control before things got out of hand, Seabrooks said the potential for harm is high and both Chiefs said officials want to preempt problems.
“It’s just a concern,” said Walker.“We’re in the public safety business, were in the business of worst case scenarios and in a crowd that large a worst-case scenario is something that gets away from us.”
Seabrooks said the shows can’t be judged safe based on if something happened, but need to be evaluated on how officials can respond if there’s an emergency.
“As it stands, nothing happened but that’s not the measure,” she said. “The measure is being proactive and doing things safely.”
She called the show “irresponsible” for attracting a crowd that was beyond SMPD’s ability to regulate or control and said show organizers have ignored her past concerns about appropriate sized crowds for the Santa Monica area.
“This is not Upstate New York in 1969 at Woodstock,” she said.
Seabrooks said there’s nothing anyone can do to stop public access to a public beach and crowds will always flock to a beach town like Santa Monica. However, providing a free show of regional interest substantially increases the number of people who will come to the City.
“It’s bounded by residences and hotels and for us to have an event like this, I’m absolutely astounded that the Pier Board would enable this kind of activity to go on despite the objection of Police and Fire and the expressed concerns of the city,” she said.
The concerts are produced by the Pier Corporation, a Council-appointed nonprofit that handles events, promotions, marketing and fundraising. Pier Corp Board President Judy Abdo said staff will be working with the Police and Fire departments in the coming days.
“I am very glad that the planning process is working more smoothly this year and that the Police and the pier staff have been meeting often to address the issues that are being raised here and that my expectation is that they will meet and make sure that next week’s concert addresses the issues they have highlighted from this concert,” she said.
Jay Farrand, Executive Director of the Pier said Khalid was booked months ago and his popularity exploded in the meantime drawing a surprisingly large crowd for the TCS show. He said based on social media RSVPs, none of the remaining shows have even a third of the response and while the crowd was large, the event was safe and well planned.
“I think what was successful about last night is that we’ve been working for months with City departments, our producers, private event staff and security to make plans for the series and that planning and preparation paid off last night with calm collaborative action that kept the night running as smoothly as possible given the large crowd,” he said. “Additionally, we knew that the crowds were going to be very large for weeks in advance and had many meetings with public safety and our event staff and security to prepare, including making extra signage, hiring extra security and ushers, and more.”
He said the crowd was large, happy and excited to see Khalid but not dangerous. Farrand said the Pier hadn’t changed how it promoted the show and the situation Thursday was a result of the talent surging in popularity.
“Nothing was different in how we promoted the show and didn’t make any attempts to reach an out-of-town crowd, but his sudden popularity and buzz were clearly far-reaching,” he said. “While the numbers were large thanks to his sudden popularity, they were a mellow happy well-behaved crowd which is the norm for Twilight and we heard this echo’d by most of the professionals working the event in various capacities.”
Seabrooks said given the national and international reality, law enforcement has to be aware of potential problems and when officers can’t safely access the crowd on the beach it becomes a liability for everyone involved.
“With 50,000 people in a small footprint, it only takes one person to do something sideways that has the ability to impact the city of Santa Monica and the surrounding community for years to come,” she said. “I am concerned in my professional capacity, this has gone way beyond the capabilities of Santa Monica Police Department and its law enforcement partners and EMS partners…” she said.
To provide perspective on the situation, Seabrooks requested the Department of Homeland Security provide a threat assessment of the TCS shows. She said a team of experts attended the show and were not happy with what they saw. A full report from the inspection team will be provided to SMPD in the coming weeks but Seabrooks said its content might be kept confidential if it contains information that could expose public safety weaknesses. There are seven remaining TCS shows spread over the next eight weeks. There will be no concert the week of July 4.