Santa Monica City Council joined local residents and The OIR Group this week to discuss an independent after-action report that evaluates the events leading up to, during, and following the May 31 riots.
The long-awaited report prepared by Michael Gennaco and his team at OIR has been anticipated since last year when it was first announced that Santa Monica Police Department leaders did not have the capacity to review and prepare a report on the day’s happenings on top of their traditional responsibilities.
OIR Group employees have been combing through documents, talking with residents and finalizing the 44 recommendations made to City and SMPD leaders.
Officials said after-action reports generally don’t contain names because it’s not an investigation where people are supposed to be blamed, outed and identified. Instead, the 121-page report outlines a number of different factors that contributed to the day spiraling out of control relatively quickly, OIR Group staff said Tuesday. They noted if the department had been differently situated on Saturday, or even early Sunday, then they potentially could have blunted some of the destructive acts.
“But nobody picked up that ball and ran with it in a coordinated and cohesive way … Meanwhile, the chief was making her way from Northern California down to Southern California and she would arrive at headquarters at about 11:30 in the morning. And by then, everybody was very much behind the curve,” OIR Group’s Stephen Connolly said early in Tuesday’s meeting when he described the operations plan for the day as extremely limited in scope and detail. “Again, while nobody knew what was going to happen, there were a lot of ways to make reasonable predictions about what could happen.”
Even officers who had been in the field in Beverly Hills arrived back in Santa Monica early Sunday morning and said they were very concerned with what they had seen, Connolly later added.
“In my recollection, speaking to some of them, I think they were very surprised that the department had not ramped up, based on the general information and just the way things were going, overall; but, again, it speaks to that overall disjointed nature of the department’s communications and chain of the command structure at that point in time,” he said.
SMPD’s response to the riots would continue to be dissected in detail until the department’s use of force was brought up.
“We saw, for example, a baton strike used against an individual who was seated on the ground. We saw uses of the pepper ball, another less-lethal munitions tool, against non-aggressive subjects who were fleeing the area. We observed a takedown of some passers-by who were not being immediately aggressive and were in fact trying to leave the area,” Teresa Magula said, stating the situation appears to be pretty much a wholesale failure since many officers opted to not activate their body-worn cameras at all during most of the day’s significant events.
Some Councilmembers said they were shocked to learn that body-cameras weren’t used to the fullest extent during the infamous day, while others took issue with the department’s lack of review.
“I believe I read the report that nobody reviewed for body cams, or something like that till a month and a half ago. That concerns me,” Councilmember Phil Brock said. “My uninformed conclusion would be that for a progressive police department that prides itself on — or we thought prides itself on the use of technology and being very progressive and making sure that we didn’t overuse use of force — on May 31, we did not get an A. In fact, I would suppose that we’d give ourselves an F.”
OIR Group staff said they were informed that officers are typically very good at turning on their body-worn cameras and activating them prior to contact with the public, which is consistent with department policy.
“It just seems like there was a breakdown this day,” Gennaco said.
This was a point that was repeated throughout the night.
Before stating that the looting could have been highly mitigated but not prevented, Gennaco and staff said it’s important to remember that the May 31 riots and protests were an unprecedented event in Santa Monica, which is a community that has largely thought that protesters were never going to come to its side of the 405, Gennaco said. “I think the planning piece had a lot to do with it. I think … that the enormity of the individuals who were out to protest and the enormity of the individuals who came into your city to take advantage of that activity to steal, loot and burglarize was overwhelming and unprecedented; and the department underestimated the likelihood that would occur because it has never occurred before.”
After some debate on the workload of the newly appointed Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission, Council directed SMPD to prepare a response to the OIR Group’s report within 60 days that will set out a plan for implementing each of the 44 recommendations. Council also directed the newly created Public Safety commissioners to begin preparing a response to the department’s report that would set out additional recommendations for consideration by Council and instructed department leaders to ensure that usage of body-worn cameras by SMPD personnel is enforced.