The Lookout Letter to the editor
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Public Needs Full, Transparent Police Investigation

June 29, 2020

Dear Editor,

As the Lookout, on June 11, so eloquently asked, “What Went Wrong,” we all want to know what happened and why on May 31 ("What Went Wrong," June 11, 2020).

What we need is a full, fair and transparent look at the events leading up to the looting and tear-gassing and the failures of police to protect residents and their property.

At its meeting on June 23, the Council voted to block that kind of investigation. It supported a proposal for a superficial “investigation” costing less than $95,000.

By keeping under that cost, an RFP is avoided that would require the City to go through Formal Procedures, including two ads in newspapers, posting on its website, evaluation by the City Attorney and recommendation to Council, which makes a decision in an open meeting under public scrutiny.

According to the Municipal Code, a “Professional Service Agreement” of over $95,000 is more rigorous, also requiring proof by applicant of training, credentials, experience; competence, ability, skills; financial resources; integrity, reputation; and fair price.

A Professional Service Agreement under $95,000 has none of these requirements.

Proper investigations are costly, but worth it.

In the 2015 inquiry into Elizabeth Riel’s firing after improper actions by then Councilmember Pam O’Connor, then City Manager Rod Gould and other senior staff were alleged, the fee paid to the Hueston Hennigan law firm was $420,000 ("Santa Monica Hires Outside Firm to Conduct Ethics Review," November 13, 2015).

That covered the review of only a few dozen emails and several interviews. A recent independent investigation of a single killing by a policeman in Northern California resulted in a fee of $400,000.

Santa Monica’s May 31 investigation should be much more complicated and time-consuming than either of those two.

It would involve looking into all activities on 5/31 by police from all jurisdictions, media coverage, the day-before information from other areas where violence broke out, press statements (Interim City Manager Lane Dilg gave the police an “A” rating) and publicity releases by the City.

Then, of course, there would be scores of interviews with store owners, police officers and witnesses.

The public is entitled to a full and transparent, not a sham, investigation from the selection of an expert to the final report.

More than 60,000 persons signed a petition to fire Police Chief Renaud. That should have indicated to Council the widespread public interest in the matter, but it did not.

Without any discussion, it unanimously voted to sweep the whole “investigation” under the radar. Council’s decision to bury this investigation cannot stand.

Stan Epstein
Santa Monica

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