April 16, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Independent Review Coming for Santa Monica Police’s Handling of Civic Unrest

Over 60,000 supporters of petition to recall Santa Monica police chief

By Sam Catanzaro

As over 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for the recall of Santa Monica’s police chief over her handling of May 31 looting, city officials have ordered an independent review of the events that left hundreds of businesses in shambles.

At the request of Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to direct an independent investigation of the events on Sunday, May 31, including events leading up to that day and the days that followed.

At the center of the controversy is the Santa Monica Police Department’s (SMPD) use of tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd of predominantly peaceful demonstrators protesting the police killing of George Floyd while looters pilfered businesses just blocks away. In an interview with the Santa Monica Mirror, SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud defended this decision citing an “extremely hostile” crowd.

An independent professional body will conduct the review, with Himmelrich specifically mentioning the OIR Group, which has conducted independent reviews of police departments actions across the state and nation.

“I know the police will conduct an after-incident review but I believe that it should also be investigated by an independent body,” Himmelrich said, adding that it should “include statements made after May 31 and their accuracy.”

In addition, Himmelrich specified that the review should be paid out of the SMPD budget.

“I know the police will conduct an after-incident review but I believe that it should also be investigated by an independent body,”

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich

Phoning in to the virtual council meeting, a handful of Santa Monica residents expressed their support for an independent review.

“I watched the press conference the day after the looting on Monday and was just absolutely shocked, disgusted and horrified that our city leaders were taking a victory lap after a block-and-a-half from them the whole place lay in shambles and it just calls into question the entire judgment of the City Council and Police Chief” said Josh Levy. “We need transparency and we need an independent review board that has nothing to do with the City Council.”

Lone Wolf Cigar Company, the morning after being hit by looters. Photo: Phil Brock.

Another community member, Oliver Green, took issue with Renaud’s “inability to take control and instill confidence that our public safety was being maintained,” adding “the subsequent statements and rationalizations made by Chief Renaud during the aftermath have only reinforced that lost confidence.”

Green last week launched a petition calling for the recall of Chief Renaud in the wake of the events of May 31. As of June 11, over 61,000 people had signed onto the petition, over half of Santa Monica’s population though it’s unclear how many of the supporters are residents.

“I watched the press conference the day after the looting on Monday and was just absolutely shocked, disgusted and horrified that our city leaders were taking a victory lap after a block-and-a-half from them the whole place lay in shambles,”

Josh Levy

“We need and deserve strong, resounding leadership in Santa Monica’s police force, particularly during today’s volatile times. SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud has proven incapable of responding to that call effectively. For the sake of our community and public safety, we need to remove Cynthia Renaud from her position immediately,” reads the petition.

Many of Santa Monica’s leaders have stood by Renaud.

“I support the Chief,” said City Manager Lane Dilg in an interview with the Santa Monica Mirror last week. “The Santa Monica Police Department was confronted with the most challenging of circumstances on Sunday. They were responding to a peaceful protest, the voices of which we support, they were responding to infiltrators of that protest who were agitators who were clearly engaged in unlawful activity and some of whom sought to harm our officers.”

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown speaking during a Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition meeting last week said that Renaud was faced with a “terrible dilemma”.

“I really hesitate to jump to the conclusion that many people have that she was incompetent,” McKeown said. “She may have been faced with an impossible situation, and the fact that we got out of that without loss of life or just serious injury is really remarkable.”

Santa Monica police chief Cynthia Renaud at a press conference May 31. Photo: City of Santa Monica.

Renaud for her part told the Mirror that the petition is “unfair” to her officers.

“SMPD officers were completely committed to keeping that community safe, they were putting themselves at risk, they were out there from the very beginning,” Renaud said.

Amidst all of this, on Wednesday a group called Santa Monicans for Democracy in coalition with a handful of recent graduates of Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College occupied the SMPD Headquarters.

“Remember their names: McKeown, Dilg, and Renaud,” reads a flyer for the event “If you oppose racism and lynching in America, then you understand that the demonstrators’ actions was justified. The Police Department’s violent response was not.”

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