Two-and-a-half minutes, in and out. Just 150 seconds to smash a store’s glass door or window with a hammer, fill up a suitcase with designer sneakers, jewelry, cash or cellphones, and run outside to a getaway car.
Throughout Santa Monica and Los Angeles, brazen thieves and looters used peaceful protests against police brutality in late May and early June to systematically steal from mom-and-pop shops and big box stores alike, leaving behind thousands of dollars of damage.
More than 50 people have been arrested so far through the work of the regional “Safe LA Task Force” that was established to track down the criminals whose greed, hatred and desire to create chaos overshadowed others’ intent to peacefully have their voices heard, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference to announce the arrests.
Reviews of text messages and social media exchanges, investigators said, showed that multiple perpetrators would arrive at stores in Santa Monica, Long Beach and Los Angeles and send one person inside to loot the business while another waiting in the car timed the crime to avoid police detection.
Authorities say some of the cases were solved thanks to tips from the community and stressed that the alleged arsonists, thieves, looters and others were not at the protests to demonstrate against police brutality. Police leaders stressed that they understood protesters’ concerns and supported their right to peacefully demonstrate.
“The evidence shows that it was prevalent and these were well-coordinated,” Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud said, noting that the suspects’ use of suitcases and large bags showed they were not interested in “engaging in the protest activity, the First Amendment right to free speech and this nation’s anger over systemic injustice.”
Renaud and Santa Monica police have taken 19 people into custody while Los Angeles police have arrested 14 people — some of whom are suspects in multiple crimes — as they investigate 149 cases as part of the task force.
Separately, officials in Los Angeles are also investigating allegations that police exhibited inappropriate conduct against demonstrators during the protests. Meanwhile, Santa Monica City Council voted in June to begin the process of reforming the Santa Monica Police Department and reallocating some department funding to crime prevention programs.
Residents and business owners have also since criticized the department’s approach to a May 31 protest against police violence in downtown Santa Monica, which led council to vote to explore various police reforms, open an independent review of SMPD’s response to the May 31 unrest and create a Black Agenda to address systemic racism in Santa Monica.
The Associated Press and reporter Stefanie Dazio contributed to this report.