SB County’s Lt. Brian Olmstead discusses local law enforcement’s efforts to help
Protesters continue to storm the streets across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the knee of the former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin.
Most are peaceful, but some channel their angst into looting, graffiti and vandalism.
On May 30, 53 Santa Barbara County law enforcement officers answered Los Angeles County’s request for mutual aid backup from nearby law enforcement agencies.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office coordinated the response and assembled sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department, Santa Maria Police Department and Guadalupe Police Department.
Lt. Brian Olmstead, a 30-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, said the group patrolled areas in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Hollywood through June 2.
The Santa Barbara County contingent arrived in Los Angeles at 10 p.m. on May 30 and were immediately deployed to West Los Angeles.
Lt. Olmsted said the Santa Barbara County officers usually stuck together in the field, providing support for local law enforcement agencies.
“We for the most part stuck together within a couple blocks of each other. Since we’re coming down as one team, we try to keep it together, but it really depends on what assignment they give us,” Lt. Olmstead said. “For accountability, we want to keep everyone together, but we have supervisors and managers that go down to keep track of everything,”
He explained that during the first few hours of civil unrest including looting and rioting, local law enforcement in Los Angeles were developing a response strategy.
“In the first day or so of an incident day and a half it’s pretty chaotic. They’re just trying to get as many law enforcement down, and they’re trying to wrap their heads around what the incident is,” Lt. Olmstead said.
He said the Santa Barbara County officers spent their first night protecting businesses in West Los Angeles.
“Not all the businesses had been looted in The Grove area, so we were put on fixed posts until that morning,” Lt. Olmstead said.
“We saw a lot of damage, burned-out police cars, a lot of vandalism, a lot of businesses looted, anti-law enforcement and violent threats painted on the walls, windows, all over the place. We heard a lot of gunshots in the night, a lot of fireworks, a lot of assaults taking place against law enforcement and by civilians against other civilians,” Lt. Olmstead said.
He said he saw even more destruction and criminal activity than what made the news reports.
Lt. Olmstead said he didn’t see any business owners set up to defend their businesses, but he heard reports of that activity in other parts of the city.
Lt. Olmstead said his unit brought its own riot gear including helmets, shields, and armored vehicles and “less lethal” munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets. He argued the equipment was necessary to protect both his fellow officers and peaceful protesters caught in the chaos.
“We brought down the equipment that police use on a normal basis. We have a rescue vehicle that provides protection, and we have medics on board so if we did have a situation where we run across someone that was injured or law enforcement that was injured, we can pull them into an armored vehicle for rescue purposes,” Lt. Olmstead said.
He said the vehicle provides a tactical advantage against the mobs because it gives officers a vantage point and allows medics to begin treatment in the field from a safe location.
Lt. Olmstead said on May 31, protesters threw glass bottles and other hard objects at his unit. He said that the projectiles usually bounced harmlessly off helmets and shields; however, without those tools they could have caused significant injuries.
“If we saw someone throwing objects that could hit people in the head, glass bottles, that would be someone displaying assaultive behavior where we use some of our less lethal tools,” Lt. Olmstead said.
He noted that while officers may use those tools against looters in certain cases, they are generally used to respond to or prevent assaults against law enforcement officers or other citizens.
“Think of it like working normal patrol, and there is someone breaking into a business or house. They’re gonna get contacted to be arrested, but do they comply? Do they stop and lay down or do they run away or square off and fight?” Lt. Olmstead said.
“When you’re dealing with looters, you’re just trying to arrest them. You’re just trying to stop that looting activity.”
Lt. Olmstead said the worst of the looting he saw was in Santa Monica, where crowds ravaged the downtown businesses.
While some Santa Monica protesters greeted the officers with anti-cop epithets and graffiti, others voiced their appreciation and support.
“A lot of people did thank us for being out there, waiving and stuff,” Lt. Olmstead said. “There were a lot of people out there just to protest on the issues going on right now. So there’s this balance of people, and then you have people angry at law enforcement and those who don’t care who they hurt, or the damage they do, and you have to separate the two.”