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"Devil in Details" as SMPD Goes After Looting Suspects, Head Detective Says
By Jorge Casuso
October 1, 2020 -- The Santa Monica Police Department is facing a challenge unique in its history:
How to identify and arrest more than 100 masked suspects who swept through the Downtown during a looting spree on May 31 that lasted only a few hours.
"Within Santa Monica, May 31 was very unique," said Lt. William Heric, who heads the Department's Detective Bureau. "The number of cases created that day is very unusual.
"There are so many cases and so many leads to follow," said Heric,
Between seven and nine Santa Monica police investigators are following leads on 120 cases that have so far led to 21 felony arrests, Heric said.
The work involves combing through hundreds of hours of footage captured by surveillance cameras and television crews, and by witnesses using their smart phones.
Detectives are currently cataloging 114 license plates that were at the scenes of the looting that targeted 76 Santa Monica businesses.
So far the Department has issued 19 investigative bulletins asking the public for help in identifying suspects and executed 31 search warrants, Heric said.
"People have been helpful sending information. It's taken patience and perseverance. The (license) plates have played a vital role."
A suspect could be captured on camera walking to or from a vehicle that then shows up at a different location, Heric said.
"Detectives are watching different segments and sharing the information," he said.
The masks worn during the coronavirus emergency make identifying a suspect difficult, Heric said, but he notes that facial features are only one of the leads police follow.
"Many of them have masks on but have unique features," such as the tattoo and mohawk that led to the arrest of one of the looting suspects.
Building a case the Los Angeles County District Attorney will accept for prosecution always requires more than matching a face to the scene of a crime.
"What we've seen in the past is the DA views facial recognition as an anonymous tip, a lead you are going to follow," Heric said.
"You want to have as much evidence as possible. We don't want to settle just on the image."
In many cases, the clothing worn by suspects has provided the necessary lead needed, as was the case with the Saki House arsonists and looters.
"Clothing has been very important," Heric said. "People have been wearing very unique clothing."
In others the key evidence is the fingerprints left at the scene.
"We come at it with a multi-level approach," Heric said. "The devil is in the details."
Santa Monica police aren't working the cases alone. The week after looting and riots broke in the Los Angeles area following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Santa Monica became part of the “SAFE LA Task Force.”
Those wishing to remain anonymous can call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org.
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