More than two years ago, Santa Monica experienced a day of protest, riots and looting that left many residents questioning the police response that used tear gas on protesters while criminals ransacked local businesses.
That day sparked a push for police reform and oversight in the City and resulted in the creation of the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) which was formed in January 2021 to work with the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) to develop, recommend and help implement changes.
PSROC Chair Derek Devermont spoke at the Nov. 29 City Council meeting to provide a progress update on their work.
“The PSROC has been doing diligent work,” he said of the commission, which is composed of 12 individuals from a variety of backgrounds and an Inspector General. “It is a conglomeration of philosophies and viewpoints from various perspectives that has really come together to fulfill a valuable purpose and that is to provide civilian oversight.”
Devermont shared the status of several proposed SMPD reforms recommended by the OIR Group, an outside consultant tasked with compiling a report on the department following the events of May 31, 2020 and providing suggestions for improvements. The group provided 44 recommendations, 29 of which have been completed, with the remaining 15 “making progress,” according to a September report from OIR on the matter.
In addition to the OIR report, Devermont said the PSROC and Inspector General had provided six reports to the council since the group’s inception. At the recent meeting, he highlighted several specific topics the commission has worked on with SMPD, including the department’s complaint process, which he said the commission discovered was resulting in many concerns going unaddressed.
“We discovered this gap in the process and Santa Monica PD, to their credit, worked towards installing a new technological program that would allow them to track these complaints, make sure everyone is recorded, and make sure everyone is taken,” he said.
He also brought up the use of body cameras and said the commission believed SMPD policy gives officers too much discretion in choosing when to turn off their cameras by allowing them to opt not to record witnesses or victims to protect their privacy, which he said was an unnecessary precaution.
“Those videos that are taken of those interviews are not available to the public already, they are protected by law and not subject to public records request…” he explained. “There are plenty of protections to protect the privacy and identity of people involved in these instances, but the interest in making sure everything was recorded is great.”
SMPD Chief Ramon Bautista also spoke at the meeting and called reform efforts a “work in progress” and said the department was committed to “finding resolutions” for all of the OIR recommendations.
Both parties stressed the collaborative and positive nature of their working relationship, a sharp contrast from recent discussions by activists who have criticized police reform efforts locally.
Council Member Gleam Davis said she wanted the Council to receive periodic updates on the department’s progress and find a way to share their progress with the public as well.
“I may know you’re working hard but I want to make sure that the community as a whole is aware of the work you’re doing because May 31, in particular, but a lot of the subsequent decisions to that really impacted such a large number of members of our community,” she said.
Devermont said the PSROC has a committee focused on community outreach and that they have plans for more engagement efforts in the future.
Davis gave direction at the meeting for Devermont, Bautista, City Manager David White and staff to work together to find a way to regularly report on progress regarding the OIR recommendations in a way that allows the public to be informed on the topic.