Santa Monica police had no intelligence that people would come to loot downtown stores during Sunday’s protest against police violence, the city’s police chief said Thursday.
Chief of Police Cynthia Renaud said during a meeting with businesses that she was only aware that a peaceful protest on Montana Avenue had been planned and then canceled, despite telling the Daily Press a day earlier that the department knew looting was a possibility and had been sent social media posts advertising looting in the city.
Renaud added during the town hall that the city got late information about documented gang members coming into loot, although she said the information was not “credible and specific.”
Despite that, SMPD had five times its normal deployment of officers on the streets Sunday morning and its SWAT team on standby, Renaud said. The night before, the department was dispatched to assist Beverly Hills while Rodeo Drive was looted.
Residents have criticized Renaud’s approach to the Sunday protest and looting.
Earlier this week, resident Oliver Greene created a petition demanding the city to fire Renaud that had amassed more than 44,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
Business owners have questioned why SMPD deployed so many officers to confront mostly peaceful protesters on Ocean Avenue while looters hit hundreds of stores elsewhere in downtown and on Main Street.
“There were hundreds of cops standing there at the protest — just standing there all in one spot — while all the looters were destroying properties behind their backs and not doing anything about it,” Tar & Roses owner Andrew Kirschner told the Daily Press earlier this week.
Renaud said 300 officers from SMPD, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were attempting to stop looters in the downtown area.
According to the city of Santa Monica, 225 businesses sustained damage and 76 showed visible evidence of looting.
“We were hopscotching back and forth between all the different calls,” she said. “As soon as we cleared one store and went on to the next, they went back to the first store. The only way to prevent (what happened) is to have an officer in front of every single business in Santa Monica.”
All the while, she said, caravans of looters kept driving into Santa Monica even after the city closed freeway off-ramps around 2 p.m.
Renaud also defended SMPD’s focus on the crowd of protesters demonstrating near the Santa Monica Pier.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters around 3:20 p.m. in an attempt to disperse them before the 4 p.m. curfew. Some in the crowd threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at police.
Renaud said the crowd of peaceful protesters had “violent agitators” within it, and police were trying to stop them from burning down the pier and “flooding” the downtown. She said police found “incendiary devices” in the area and heard people yell to burn down the pier.
She said she called the National Guard at 12:30 p.m., but they did not arrive in Santa Monica until 9 p.m. because they were guarding Los Angeles City Hall.
Renaud acknowledged that business owners and residents were not satisfied with SMPD’s response to the looting and said the department is trying to better prepare itself for future incidents. She said the department is now using helicopters to look for caravans of rented vans coming into the city.
“We know we did not provide the service you wanted from us that day,” she said.