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By Jorge Casuso

November 3, 2020 -- Santa Monica businesses are hunkering down, with a third of the shops Downtown boarded before nightfall Monday, in anticipation of possible election-related violence.

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Large national businesses outside the Downtown also were boarded up, including the new Target at 16th and Wilshire, as well as the Men's Warehouse, Wells Fargo, CVS and Walgreens along the busy boulevard.

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Police presence was boosted this weekend and will remain in place, although there has been no intelligence there is a threat of violence or looting, according to Police officials.

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"The community is scared, and I don't blame them," said Police Captain Candice Cobarrubias. "Our plan is still in place and we are watching, scouring the internet" for any indication the city may be targeted.

Cobarrubias noted that Facebook and Instagram have taken steps to suppress posts that call for violence and looting.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said last week that it would deploy tools designed for "at-risk" countries to calm election-related conflict, according to an article last week in the Wall Street Journal.

The emergency measures -- which have been used in countries such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar -- "include slowing the spread of viral content and lowering the bar for suppressing potentially inflammatory posts," the Journal reported.

In Santa Monica, stores began boarding up Monday morning, some with the help of the Police Officers Association (POA), which emphasized there is no "specific intelligence" suggesting a threat.

“What we do know is that our business community is still recovering from the vandalism and looting that occurred on May 31st and that they can’t afford to be hit again," POA President Erika Aklufi said in a statement.

"Many of them have also indicated that they can’t afford to board up their storefronts and so our officers felt compelled to help,” Aklufi said.

During the May 31 Santa Monica riots, a total of 220 businesses were damaged, with 76 of them looted, most of them in the Downtown ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

The POA partnered with the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) and the Squires Lumber Company of Colton, which supplied materials to board up a half dozen Downtown stores Monday morning.

Kathleen Rawson, who heads Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) said that about 35 percent of businesses in the Central Business District were boarded up by 5:30 p.m. Monday.

"The police are certainly prepared," Rawson said. "I hope it's all an abundance of caution."

North on Montana Avenue, about half a dozen stores were boarded up by sunset, said Kara Taub, chair of the Montana Avenue Merchants Association.

"About five stores have boarded up," Taub said. "Some have chosen to board up, some haven't. We advised (businesses) to get advice from the City."

The Main Street Merchants Association doesn't have a tally of boarded buildings and is not advising businesses to board up, said Hunter Hall, who heads the group.

"I think a lot of people have a hangover from May 31, which is understandable," Hall said, adding that the association is providing information for those interested in boarding their businesses.

Last week, police officials responded to calls from local businesses asking about boarding up their storefronts.

"As a Police Department, we cannot tell business what to do when it comes to boarding up," said a statement from SMPD.

"However, we understand the need to feel secure and we respect your decisions on how to handle your day to day operations."

Police officials said they had been working with local and regional law enforcement agencies over the past few weeks "in preparation for any unrest surrounding the election." ("Santa Monica Police Brace for Possible Election Unrest," October 26, 2020).

Police thwarted a potential looting spree on September 2 after a tip from a community member who saw a one-line "story" on Instagram ("Santa Monica Police Thwarted Looters Tuesday Night, Captain Says ," September 4, 2020).

Interim Chief of Police Jacqueline Seabrooks will share community updates through SMPD social media. Anyone with information about a potential threat, should email smtips@santamonica.gov.


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