Crime - Santa Monica Police Department
Public safety is on everyone’s minds these days, whether it’s the crime rate, the events of May 31st or police reform. But before I start, I hope we will all remember to thank our police officers and firefighters for putting their personal health at risk by serving on the front lines during the COVID-19 epidemic.
As recently as 2014 our crime rate was at lows not seen since the 1950s (it peaked during the 1990s). Then for a variety of reasons we saw several years of increases in our crime rate. Fortunately filling vacancies at the SMPD and new crime fighting strategies reduced the rate of Part 1 crimes by 16% in 2019 (Part 1 crimes are the worst kind and include murder, rape, arson, auto theft and robbery). And as of October 7th the PD Chief reports another 10% decrease thus far this year:
How did the PD achieve these reductions? After a rash of break-ins at City parking structures, private security was retained to patrol the garages, freeing up sworn officers to serve on a Crime Impact Team and other forward-facing, field based units to interdict crime trends. Neighborhood Resource Officers focused on foot patrols; our Mounted Unit was highly visible on Main Street, Montana Avenue, and our parks; and Public Safety Officers were redeployed back to parks.
However, I acknowledge that data points don’t make people feel safe. Too many of us have suffered vehicle break-ins, bicycle thefts, aggressive behavior by unstable individuals, etc.
So the SMPD is taking steps to provide more community policing and to proactively address the causes of crimes rather than just respond as they are reported. We are doubling the number of Neighborhood Resource Officers (NRO) who work assigned beats to listen to residents’ concerns, to address chronic issues and to monitor public open spaces. You can find your NRO here and should reach out to them:
At the same link you’ll also find your non-sworn Crime Prevention Coordinator who can visit your home or apartment to offer advice on how to increase your personal security.
Some have suggesting “bringing back” Park Rangers. The reality is these non-sworn officers never left, they were just renamed Pubic Service Officers (PSOs) and continue to patrol our parks and other public open spaces. And as we re-open playgrounds and other facilities the SMPD is increasing efforts to make these places safe.
Most importantly, we are revising our dispatch system so PD officers are only sent out on calls for the most serious crimes (lately they’ve been called by parents who want the cops to make their kids attend online classes!). We plan to send non-sworn staff, whether PSOs, social workers or mental health professionals, to calls for service which don’t require a sworn, gun-carrying PD officer, so that the SMPD can focus on the crimes which require their attention and impact our quality of life.
These are challenging and often scary times and after being shut down last spring we all want to feel safe when we leave our homes. We have an excellent Police Department whose officers are committed to serving the public. Talk to them about your worries and thank them for their service.
While I believe the SMPD does a fine job, there’s no organization which can’t be improved. Given the national conversation around race relations and police accountability and following the creation of a Public Safety Advisory Committee over the summer, the City Council initiated the following reforms to the SMPD:
1. Creation of an 11-member civilian Police Commission.
2. Review and revision of SMPD use of force policies.
3. Additional training including more anti-bias work for officers.
4. Initiate alternate dispatch approaches to (a) direct the public to an easy-to-identify non-emergency line, (b) reduce the number of minor calls serviced by sworn officers and refer them instead to alternative response personnel, and (c) explore third-party partnerships to implement crisis intervention teams similar to those employed in the Eugene, Oregon CAHOOTS program.
5. Double the number of Neighborhood Resource Officers
6. Seek resources from Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to provide additional coverage for calls requiring mental health interventions.
7. With advice from the Police Commission, make budget changes to achieve a more balanced investment of City resources to promote community wellbeing.
The events of May 31st
Like everyone else in our city, I watched with horror and dismay as our police clashed with protestors and well-organized looters took advantage of the chaos to ransack businesses. And I felt particularly powerless as the City Council has no authority under our charter to direct police operations outside of a public meeting with at least 72 hours’ notice.
What the Council can do and has done is call for a review by the SMPD of its decisions and actions on May 31st and a subsequent evaluation of that report by an independent expert, so we can hold accountable those who may have made mistakes and learn lessons so such a tragedy can be avoided in the future.
The SMPD after action report has taken much longer to produce than many hoped and I share that frustration – expectations for its completion were set unrealistically high. However, the OIR Group has been retained for the independent review and I along with the rest of our community look forward to getting that report so we can determine accountability and learn lessons to apply to the future.