SM Police Chief Cynthia Renaud. File photo.

Bless or Blame THE POLICE?

A lot of upheaval, way overdue soul searching.

I held back, when everyone immediately jumped all over our police chief, Cynthia Renaud, for her handling of the looters invasion Sunday 5/31. Within four days there were 44,000 signatures on a petition demanding her dismissal.

Let’s have a thorough, independent but very speedy investigation, I wrote then. Some trashed Santa Monica businesses were still smoldering.

I didn’t sign the petition to remove her. Still haven’t. Because it doesn’t have enough names at the top. It’s missing eight: The City Council and Acting City Manager, who all had a responsibility to act in concert with the Chief when our city was so clearly threatened, and they didn’t. But in the ensuing days I think we’ve learned enough to know that a study is not needed.

TOOK THE WEEKEND OFF

Chief Renaud called up fewer than half her officers for Sunday, then left town and left everything in the hands of two fairly new Captains. She didn’t arrive back until nearly noon Sunday and did not call for the National Guard until past noon, when the caravans of looters were already on their way here. It took the Guard until 9 p.m. to finally get to Santa Monica. Why didn’t she place a stand-by call on Saturday, or even Friday? She had no plan for preventing such a looting disaster. How about circling our business areas with Big Blue Buses, blocking them off to prevent looters from driving right up to the smashed front doors with their big plastic loot carriers?

She concentrated nearly all her forces on mostly peaceful, mostly local protesters exercising their First Amendment I Can’t Breathe rights, attacking them even before the curfew began with tear gas and rubber bullets. Did you know international treaties ban the use of tear gas except in war, that LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar was killed by a canister fired by the LAPD, while covering a Vietnam War protest in 1970? And that rubber bullets can tear the flesh from bones, destroy internal organs, even kill you? Our Police Chief thought it was OK to use them on our own people? I don’t need a study.

Four days later she said, at a meeting with local business owners, that the police had “no intelligence that people would come to loot downtown stores during Sunday’s protest against police violence.” But, it happened in surrounding communities the previous two nights. And in fact several local residents saw and collected a swarm of social media messages organizing the looting assault on Santa Monica. Strangely, she told the Daily Press a different story a day earlier, that the department knew looting was a possibility and they had been sent social media posts promoting it. Hard to explain. But absolutely inexcusable.

WHEN YOU ACCEPT

A high profile, high paying, high prestige job and all its benefits, you better be prepared to do that job, no matter what comes around the corner. In this hugely important test, all nine failed. City Council hires the City Manager, and former City Manager Rick Cole hired Renaud, with CC approval. They clearly should have all conferred together that weekend, to prepare. The buck stops at City Council.

We have seen lately, over and over around the country, such failings being met with swift action that you never would have seen six months ago. Police officers fired or at least suspended without pay. Charged with serious crimes. Police chiefs resigning.

I keep waiting for our local “leaders” to do something, say something, that means something. About police reform but also about continuing to push overdevelopment and density during a pandemic. (But they are still considering that 12-story hotel complex in the middle of downtown, when so many are asking for open space there.) About always acting for residents, not outside interests or their own egos and desires for power and prestige.

I’m an eternal optimist, but also a realist. I acknowledge those who choose to serve and I’m not attacking anyone’s character or love of city or country. I’m just looking at the facts and concluding, if you failed, big time, it’s time for you to step aside. Failed once, like the Chief and Acting City Manager, or for years like the Council.

WE ARE IN UNPRECEDENTED TIMES

“Radical” responses, and ideas, are now called for. (I would call them “reasonable.”) We don’t have time for incremental, ineffective, token change. That’s not what those massive crowds in our streets, and all over the world, are marching for. I haven’t seen a single sign that said “Some Small Change, Please! But Not Too Fast!”

Yes, our City Council unanimously voted to have an independent agency study what happened here 5/31 and the time leading up to it. And we’ll get the findings…. when? Before the election if they’re favorable to the right people, after if they are not?

Yes, Council also voted unanimously to direct staff to explore implementation of the #8CantWait action items, a series of measures to restrict police use of force and reduce police violence. Very good stuff, for starters. But, explore? The time for exploring is long past. Other cities have introduced them and adopted them in swift order.

The Council also unanimously adopted the Obama Pledge to reform local police practices to limit use of force. Nice sentiment but, again, more studies, committees, surveys, reviews.

WE’RE WAITING

Tell us you’re going to stop spending our money like drunken sailors and live within our diminished means. Tell us you have real world plans to tackle crime and homelessness, not just more high- paid staff positions. Tell us you’re going to get rid of significant numbers of those bloated salaries on staff that are devastating our budget, instead of getting rid of libraries, crossing guards and street cleaning. Help the school district to keep teachers, not fire them. Help, don’t hinder, our precious small businesses, instead of giving breaks to developers bringing in chi-chi chain stores. Make SMC a good citizen, not a partner in crime. Give us a transportation system that gets everyone around town with lots fewer cars on the street. Take care of our elders and children. We’re a town full of artists, let our city reflect that. Stop with the platitudes about our glorious progressive, diverse, caring city history, humbly remember the Belmar Triangle and the Pico neighborhood, and drop the costly appeals of the lawsuit you lost over voter discrimination and comply with court-ordered district elections. Tell us what you’re doing, all of it, sunshine, transparency, don’t spend all that time and energy keeping it among the elite “influencers.” Be accountable. Listen to us.

We can use these disasters of pandemic, economic collapse and systemic racism to build a new Santa Monica we can all be very proud of. We need a lot more than just a new police chief, and reorganized police force. And we need it now.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com