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Council Votes to Seek Consultant to Conduct Full Police Probe
 

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By Jorge Casuso

August 28, 2020 -- Frustrated by delays, the City Council on Tuesday voted to authorize the quick hiring of a consulting firm to investigate the Police Department's response to the May 31 riots.

The consultant would finish conducting an after action report the department was expected to have completed August 17 and probe how police handled the widespread looting and violent protests that erupted.

The City Attorney will issue a request for proposals (RFP) after the Council determined such an investigation would cost more than the $95,000 cap on contracts that can be authorized without Council approval.

After City officials cautioned that similar investigations have taken as long as a year to complete, the Council voted to require that staff provide regular updates at Council meetings or in the form of information items.

"There's an urgency of now, because three months and no information is unacceptable," said Councilmember Kristin McCowan, one of the three Council members who placed the item on the agenda.

"People were under the impression this was going to go faster," McCowan said. "The community absolutely deserves something."

Sue Himmelrich, who called for the initial review approved by the Council June 9, said, "I hope we can get it done so we can move on" ("Santa Monica Councilmember Calls for Independent Probe," June 8, 2020).

Interim City Attorney Lane Dilg advised the Council to have the same consultant conduct both the after action report and the investigation, noting it is "important that the community have transparency."

The after action report the department was expected to have completed requires a review of bodycam footage, internal police communications, emails and information from other sources.

The two reports would "give the community the answers its wants around a very complex event," Dilg said.

Several Council members noted that the police probe would provide valuable information for the City's newly formed Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee, which is tasked with making recommendations on police reform and funding.

"What's really the key is getting the analysis needed to re-envision policing in Santa Monica," said Councilmember Gleam Davis. "The after action report and independent review will help get that done."

Davis said that while the investigation needs to be completed quickly, it also needs to be thorough. "It's not just how fast we do it, but how well we do it," she said.

The after action report, Davis said, needs to be "thorough, well done and as inclusive as possible," and should include interviews with officers on the ground that day.

Seven speakers called during the remote meeting to weigh in on the agenda item the Council took up around 1 a.m.

John Medlin, a 24-year resident of Santa Monica, said he was "shocked and alarmed" by the unchecked looting that swept through the Downtown area.

Among the questions the consultant should answer, Medlin said, are when the Police Department first became aware of the potential looting, why no overall alert was sent to businesses the previous day and why police did not attempt to stop the looting.

Approximately 80 Santa Monica businesses were ransacked by bands of looters who swept through the heart of the city unchecked by police ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

A total of 225 businesses had general damage, such as visible broken windows and doors; 48 had other "vandalization" and ten had fire or smoke damage.

Two of the speakers were members of Santa Monicans for Democracy, which has been holding demonstrations outside the Public Safety building to protest the police's alleged use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

"I find this very troubling there has been zero accountability for Santa Monica PD," one of the group's members said. "This is being swept under the rug."

An investigation by the Lookout found that the Santa Monica Police Department was clearly unprepared, initially understaffed and appeared to have no operations plan to stop the violence (PART I -- Santa Monica Police Could Have Prevented Looting Spree, Former Top Officials Say," June 10, 2020).

The Police Department's response during the May 31 riots led to an online campaign to remove Police Chief Cynthia Renaud that garnered nearly 56,000 supporters in one week ("Petition Circulates to Recall Santa Monica Police Chief After Rampant Looting," June 1, 2020).


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