Cynthia Renaud hopes to increase the Santa Monica Police Department’s presence in the community

By Gary Walker

SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud aims to grow the department by at least 15 sworn officers
Photo by Maria Martin

Less than a month on the job, Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud has been busy crisscrossing the community in an effort to dialogue with local leaders, learn the character of its distinct neighborhoods and get a stronger feel for a place that she’s long felt connected to but continues to grow and evolve.

“It’s a beautiful city. I’m having a lot of fun,” said Renaud, who was Folsom’s chief of police chief for seven years before being tapped to replace Santa Monica’s first female police chief, Jacqueline Seabrooks, who retired last year. A Long Beach native who spent 20 years with that city’s police department, Renaud now oversees — and hopes to grow — a Santa Monica Police Department with 213 sworn officers and an annual operating budget of $86.6 million. Her annual salary is $265,440.

The new chief sat with The Argonaut in her fourth floor office to discuss her plans for policing an international tourist destination, including how to tackle
a recent uptick in major crimes.


While overall crime is down in Santa Monica, major crimes are up 6%. How do you planto reverse that trend?

What we’re looking here in the organization is a combination of several different strategies. One of the most important pieces of that is we need to get up to full staffing, and by that I mean we need to hire the officers that we’re supposed to have on the streets. And not just sworn officers. Organization wide, we have a very strong professional staff here that performs a myriad of functions that are very important to the crime-fighting picture. We’re going to work to get up to full staffing as soon as we can.

There are several ways to approach crime. Clearly, you want to prevent it from happening, and one of the most important ways to do that is to make sure that you have a visible and present deterrence in the field.  And we’re going to work to partner with our community. A lot of the crimes that we’re working on are property theft crimes and crimes of opportunity. So to the extent that we can encourage our citizens and give them tips to harden their own targets, we will lessen crime in that way as well.


How many officers would you like to add?

I think we’re looking at 15 to 18 sworn police officers, and we need to fill vacancies in other parts of the organization as well.

Do you plan to maintain the department’s current policies for engagement with the homeless?

Yes, we will definitely be keeping the social engagement portion of our homeless strategies, and I think social engagement is a great term that you used. Keeping in mind that homelessness is not a crime, the police department is a large part of the work towards a proactive solution to homelessness. With that said, we will address crime where crime occurs, regardless of what community it’s in or what population it’s in. So it’s a multi-pronged approach.


Santa Monica is more diverse than Folsom. Will you factor that into your policing philosophy?

Folsom actually has a very large Muslim population and is ethnically and religiously more diverse than people give it credit. However, I began my career in law enforcement with Long Beach, which is an extremely diverse city. And I worked in all divisions and in all communities there. With that said, there’s no place like Santa Monica,
and I know that. And I know enough to know that I need to get out into the community and get to know people, individually and collectively.


What have you done so far to survey your new terrain?

Before I was hired I tried to attend as many city events as I could. I’ve spent some time driving through the city with officers to geographically understand where some of our different community groups are located. The challenge is to get me out to all of them as quickly as I possibly can, and [former Santa Monica mayor and ex-police sergeant] Nat Trives has been just a fantastic help with a lot of that. [Documentary filmmaker] A.J. Ali lives here in the city and reached out to me on LinkedIn, and I’m working to have coffee with him soon. I have several meetings on my calendar planned with different community groups stretching out into the next month or two. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded, because there is not one community group that will be excluded. I’m going to work to meet every segment of Santa Monica, but it’s
going to take some time.


According to the Folsom Telegraph, your plan was to stay in law enforcement “for only three to five years.” Does that window still stand?

My window just got elongated. I have at least five years here. The interesting thing is you don’t want the same person as the head of an organization for 30 years. Seven years in Folsom was the right time. And I don’t know what Santa Monica is going to look like. I might stay longer than five years, but there’s no set window. … What I can say is I’m invested in this organization. I’m not a fly-by-night. We’re going to do some great things together and grow this organization, mentor, build a strong bench and grow with this community.


In the same article you said you were “happy in Folsom.” So why Santa Monica?

I was really happy in Folsom and I was not looking to leave. But I have always looked at the city of Santa Monica as a special place. I’ve been around this city for almost 30 years now. I have friends who have worked in this police department and in other city departments and who have lived in this community. Santa Monica has, since my early 20s, been a city that I have always looked at and admired and respected and thought one day I would like to join that community. I did not anticipate this opportunity coming up, but how could I not consider it?


Some have attempted to connect crime and homelessness with the completion of the Expo Line. How does public transportation impact law enforcement strategy?

With public transportation comes more people, and with more people there’s a larger population for us to serve. We don’t have data that tells us people using public transport are committing crimes, and we don’t have data that tells us where people go when they take public transportation into the city, but we kind of assume they’re coming to shop and visit the downtown area and our beach. … Probably our biggest strategy is to concentrate officers in the locations people tend to visit most.


What’s one duty of a police chief that most people probably aren’t aware of?

We have a mounted unit here, and I will probably be expected at some point to ride a horse. … Another thing that people don’t realize is one duty of a chief is to broker information about what the organization is working on and how the public can help themselves not become victims of crimes of opportunity.


What would you like to expand or integrate into the department?

We’re looking at some technology applications that we hope can help us be a little more efficient and relieve some workload on our officers. What I would like to expand upon, from a policy and strategic standpoint, is technology that can relieve our officers of certain duties so that they can spend more time on their core job, which is people.