With the official report analyzing the city’s response to the May 31 looting delayed by at least six months, Police Chief Cynthia Renaud has begun touring local community groups to provide details on the delay and answer community concerns over public safety.
The Chief recently spoke to neighborhood organizations and the Chamber of Commerce and she said that she had every intention of fulfilling the initial timeline to release an after action report in August but realized it would be impossible given the scope of the work.
The department informed the council in August that an outside agency would need to be hired to complete the after action report and the hiring process for that company states it will be at least a six month process.
“I realized how much there is to gather because the event was so complex and while we’ve done the initial work to start gathering information, it’s not complete,” she said.
Resident Craig Miller has been a vocal critic of the department’s response to the looting, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. He said the city’s efforts so far amount to a charade of symbolic actions and distractions that have prevented residents from assessing city leaders and demanding accountability.
“The Council has been spinning its wheels on this issue for three months in a process full of missed deadlines and confusion,” he said.
Miller has questioned the amount of gas and rubber bullets used, how the use of force decisions were made and if the city would respond any differently if it were forced to repeat the situation in the future.
“These are not far-fetched questions,” he said. “The fact residents have waited over three months for answers and have not received any is unacceptable. This is reality and we are being kept completely out of the loop of details on how our city performed last time and how they will perform next time. That is not how democracy works. Santa Monicans need their city leaders to be responsible and have accountability.”
Renaud said the scope of the work for the after action report covers about a week as the department was on tactical deployment through June 8 and includes contacting individuals from multiple departments.
She said officers are working hard on criminal investigations related to the incident and the quantity of work necessary to provide a comprehensive report is daunting.
“We had multiple agencies through mutual aid from as far as Santa Barbara and Santa Maria,” she said. “They all have information as well and that all has to be collected and gathered … I realized that getting into August, that we just had a lot more work to do and also matching that up to other reports of that nature. It’s pretty consistent that it’s going to take some time to put together.”
In several community meetings, the Chief has reiterated that the report following the shooting at Santa Monica College took nine months to complete and the Woolsey Fire report was complied by an outside agency in about a year.
She said the department didn’t have the capacity to focus on the detailed report and maintain day to day duties.
According to SMPD, there are 120 active cases with workable leads, 751 segments of body camera footage, 114 usable license plate images and 19 investigative bulletins. The Department has made 19 felony arrests and served 29 search warrants.
A single warrant can cover multiple locations and under the 29 issued so far, SMPD has searched 11 phones, 6 vehicles and 10 locations. The warrants have also covered five trackers and 11 Ramey warrants (warrants issued without a criminal complaint).
“We still have our regular jobs to do,” she said. “We’re not an overstaffed police department and we already have people doing multiple jobs.”
In addition, she said implications from COVID restrictions made it more difficult than planned to gather information as debriefings are limited to less than 10 people at a time which delayed some of the initial discussions between supervisors.
She said her recent efforts to reach out to community and business groups are in response to the now delayed report as are an opportunity to provide what information she can at this time.
She said some criticism over how tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed is misleading because critics are asking questions that are already answered by SMPD policy that is available online.
“(Tear gas) isn’t ordered from a command person. It’s requested from officers in the field because they feel there’s a threat … the request comes from officers on the ground and is then pushed to the incident commanders,” she said. “Council does not direct the police department and didn’t direct us that day. No order was given by the City Council.”
She defended the use of gas and rubber bullets as necessary due to attacks on officers. Critics dispute that assertion and say the protests were peaceful.
She said officers on the scene asked peaceful protesters to leave the area before deploying the weapons and that she’s confident the investigation will show officers made the right decision.
She said she was out of town Saturday at a preplanned family event but she was in communication via text, phone and video chat throughout the day. She said she was back in her office at the police station by about 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, the day of the incident.
According to Renaud, she and her officers plan to continue talking with groups in the coming weeks about the looting report, or any other public safety issue.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m getting out to business and community groups,” she said. “We’re also working with the neighborhood resource officers to get them in tune with the neighborhood organizations to answer questions.”