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Santa Monica Councilmember Calls for Independent Probe of Police Actions During Looting Spree

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By Jorge Casuso

June 8, 2020 -- The City Council on Tuesday will take up a request from Councilmember Sue Himmelrich to review the police response to a looting spree that damaged more than 200 Santa Monica businesses on May 31.

If approved by the Council, the review would come after the Police Department's Incident Review Board conducts its own probe, which could take about one month, City officials said.

"You need experts to look at this and tell us if we complied with best police practices, and if we didn't what we need to change," Himmelrich told The Lookout.

"I don't want this to be a witch hunt, but we need to know what happened," Himmelrich said.

On Sunday, City officials said the Police Department is supportive of "an independent review of the events" and issued the following statement from Chief Cynthia Renaud:

"As Police Chief, I welcome a thorough, independent review of the events of May 31, building on the after-action review I have committed to conducting within the Department," Renaud said.

"Our focus will remain keeping everyone in our community safe."

Himmelrich did not specify in her request who would conduct the investigation but pointed to the OIR Group, a consulting firm based in Playa Del Rey that provides "Independent Police Oversight and Review."

"Widespread protests and spiraling jury verdicts reflect the public’s increasing concern about law enforcement performance -- and its high expectations for responsive policing," the firm's website states.

According to the site, the firm provides "Critical Incident Review and Analysis."

The OIR's most recent reports center on officer involved shootings and use of force by the Burbank Police Department and the Portland Police Bureau.

Himmelrich said she would like to see a review similar to the one conducted by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review (OIR) into a police probe of School Board member Oscar de la Torre in 2011 ("SMPD Right to Investigate de la Torre but Used Questionable Methods, Report Concludes," February 8, 2011).

The agency concluded that SMPD had acted appropriately when it launched a four-month-long investigation into de la Torre's actions during a student fight but noted the techniques used by police could raise concerns.

"I thought that they were even-handed and thorough and recommended practices that were sound," Himmelrich said.

Police Chief Renaud has come under fire for failing to deploy police to stop the bands of looters who swept unchecked for nearly four hours through the city's central business district ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

A petition to remove the Chief had garnered nearly 56,000 signatures as of 2 p.m. Monday ("Petition Circulates to Recall Santa Monica Police Chief After Rampant Looting," June 1, 2020).

This weekend, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg issued the following statement:

"We are committed to reviewing the actions of that day to determine what, if anything, could have been done better to deter the criminal activity and to facilitate the peaceful protests calling for necessary change.

"But these decisions, made in the hardest of circumstances, resulted in no loss of life in Santa Monica that night and the preservation of our iconic architecture and landmarks.

"Some businesses lost everything, and we are committed to working on solutions to help rebuild," she wrote.

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