Council has reauthorized a ban on select items during protests after a recent spate of activity downtown including individuals with knives, sticks and tactical gear. 

The emergency ordinance is the second time Council has passed the rules. The first ban came in 2021 but expired in June of this year and the Santa Monica Police Department proposed reissuing the rules in response to an uptick in protest activity locally. 

Santa Monica experienced looting following protests in 2020 but subsequent protests within city limits have been peaceful. However, on July 21, SMPD Lieutenant Sal Lucio said protest intensity has increased and while SMPD supports the peaceful exercise of free speech, steps need to be taken to guarantee everyone’s safety.

“In general, over the last few years, we’ve all seen a significant increase in protest activities locally and regionally,” he said. “Some of these protests have erupted in violence against police and the community and that directly affected local residents, at times spilling into neighborhoods, as well as impacting businesses. Over time, we’ve seen an increase in counter-protesters and what that means is … when there’s a group that’s organized themselves to protest with a desire to be heard on a particular issue, they’re now being countered by other groups, and as a result, this is causing the imminent threat of violence to occur in these environments and spaces.”

In the past month, Santa Monica has seen protests by pro-choice and anti-abortion groups. Both groups have brought items that would be covered under the reimposed ban. 

“I’ve been involved with the response to thousands of high-risk incidents as well as several hundred protests throughout my career and on behalf of the Chief of Police, the Deputy Chief, my colleagues, and in all of our collective experiences, we’ve never seen this type of violence and propensity for violence in or about protests in our careers,” he said. 

Lucio said SMPD is asking for a ban on items that do not serve an expressive purpose based on time, place and manner of use. 

Council quickly and unanimously agreed, approving the ban on a temporary basis through June 30, 2023, to allow for input from the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) before consideration of language for a permanent ordinance.   

The rules are identical to the previous ordinance and prohibit sticks, poles, pipes, bats, pepper spray (or variants), projectile launchers whether manually operated or powered by springs/gas, chains, bladed weapons, martial arts weapons, BB guns, explosives, tasers, knuckle dusters, containers of noxious liquid, any glass or metal containers, any open flame, shields, bricks, gas masks, protective helmets, laser pointers, umbrellas absent rain, tactical clothing designed to carry weapons and combat clothing such as bullet-proof vests. 

Lt. Lucio said the rule had a preventative impact that allowed officers to make contact with individuals before conflict occurred. He said when the previous rules were in place, Santa Monica saw about one large protest a month. He said numerous individuals were contacted and those with prohibited items were compliant. 

He said it would also benefit mental health concerns within the department as the department anticipates an increase in protest activity given the start of election season. 

“It allows us to also address our officer fatigue and burnout by minimizing the volume of these events, because oftentimes we’re seeing that individuals are coming out here to find the stage to create this theme or the notoriety for the position and for their extremist mentality and it’s causing our officers a great amount of burnout.”