PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — In a conference room adjoining the chief’s office in the Public Safety Facility, a road sign is perched on a set of high cabinets that reads “Seabrooks Way.”
The sign was made for Santa Monica’s newest police chief, Jacqueline Seabrooks, when she left her position as the Inglewood chief of police to return to the community in which she cut her teeth as a new officer.
Seabrooks spent 25 years in the Santa Monica Police Department before taking the reins in Inglewood in 2007 where she is credited with increasing transparency and accountability and beating crime down to levels not seen since the 1970s.
City Hall emphasized that her homecoming was anything but certain. Seabrooks competed against 65 other candidates from across the country for the job, ultimately pulling ahead of the pack to become Santa Monica’s first female police chief.
Santa Monica has changed a lot in the five years that Seabrooks has been away, and it will transform within the next five.
A younger crowd and more vibrant nightlife took over the Downtown, and large-scale development altered the layout of the city with substantially more on the way, particularly on the eastside where thousands of residences are planned in the new mixed-use creative district.
Officials expect the Exposition Light Rail Line to arrive in Santa Monica in 2015. If it meets their projections, the new light rail will carry 64,000 passengers a day by 2030, potentially bringing many more bodies into Santa Monica.
That’s a lot for any police force to contend with, particularly one that maintains order in a town with a population that fluctuates between a bedtime community of roughly 90,000 and a daytime count of 500,000 by some estimates, depending on the season.
And though the department is busy combating a recent uptick in property crimes seen so far this year, it also remains committed to its other community duties, including maintaining relationships with the various neighborhood groups, partnering with homeless advocacy agencies and working with the local high schools to quell tensions that brought a rash of fights and violence last school year.
The Daily Press met with Seabrooks to pick her brain about her readjustment to the city and what the Santa Monica Police Department will look like as it takes a turn onto Seabrooks Way.
(Questions and responses were edited for clarity and space)
Daily Press: So, why leave Inglewood?
Jacqueline Seabrooks: I liked the community and at the time they were looking for a chief. I thought, “Well let me see if I have something to offer and I’d like to give back to my community, it’s an opportunity to do that.” It worked out, and I did. There’s a point in time you move on.
This opportunity became available. I didn’t know whether I wanted to give it a shot, but then I thought, “Let me see.” I competed against 65 other people. It wasn’t a shoe-in by any stretch. With that in mind, they said yes and I thought, “I’ll give it a shot.” We’ll see. I can give back to a community where I gave for 25 years. And I can also take the five years of intervening experience and see how that translates here in the court of opinion in Santa Monica.
DP: What have you been doing over the past couple of weeks to re-acclimate yourself to the department, to Santa Monica?
JS: Meeting with a lot of people internally, meeting with a lot of people externally. Walking around, driving around, … Getting a feel for what has changed, how it has changed, what hasn’t changed. Getting to know new people, re-acclimating with people I have known before but may or may not have seen in just shy of five years. Spending a lot of time in the organization, talking to everyone. All-hands meetings, conducting one-on-ones with supervisors, managers, leaders, union folks. Sharing some insights but more importantly hearing about where we are.
And then there’s the document examinations, internal audits, all of that to get a sense of where the organization is and making some small changes as we go along, incrementally as we prepare for larger-scale changes internally. It’s been quite a bit.
DP: You said you’re looking for what’s different and what hasn’t changed. What have you noticed?
JS: Well the Downtown looks very different these days … . And you know it’s just a different city. Much more vibrant, much more dynamic. Differently situated than my early years when it was still very lively but a different kind of lively from a police perspective. So there’s some of that.
And a shift in demographics. It feels like there’s a younger vibe, particularly Downtown and on Main Street.
It’s still wonderful though, still a fabulous beachfront and a nicer view from the chief’s office.
DP: Development, that’s something everyone’s talking about. Is there a concern for you when you look at how many units are coming in, in terms of coverage or a need for more resources?
JS: There are different ways to answer that question, but I’m a believer that anybody who comes to Santa Monica to live is not going to be an issue for the police department. Because that’s the truth, am I concerned, no … I look at it this way. While everyone who would come to Santa Monica, whether to visit or live, is not likely to be a suspect, they certainly have the potential to be in a victim pool. So because of that I’m concerned and I want to make sure that we’re organized appropriately, that we deploy the resources that we have appropriately, that we’re conscious of how we go about fighting crime and I’m also concerned about how we educate the newest members of our community so that they understand that they are equally responsible through a different type of activity.
DP: So you’re not going to say, “I need more cops. Give me more money.”
JS: I’m not the usual chief who says, “Gimmee gimmee gimmee, I want I want I want.” I’m the chief who says, “Wait a minute. Let’s optimize everything we have and assess what we have relative to the service level demand, and then if there’s a gap, we need to talk about an effective means of (dealing with) that.”
And sometimes hiring more people isn’t it … Sometimes we take a look — and we will be taking a look at this moving forward — are we maximizing the use of our civilian employee component to serve as extra eyes and ears? Are we using them effectively or have we delimited their viability by virtue of how we’ve defined their job description?
So (there are) a lot of internal pieces we have to look at before we start knocking on the door of (City Manager Rod Gould) talking about, “Give us more.”
DP: Speaking of your style of management, former Police Chief James Butts was very hands-on and former Police Chief Tim Jackman delegated things to other folks. Where do you see yourself?
(Butts served as the Santa Monica Police Chief between 1991 and 2006. Jackman took over until his retirement in 2012. Deputy Police Chief Al Venegas led the department until Seabrooks was selected.)
JS: I have a foot in both camps. There is a time and a place to take charge and to acquire a level of autocratic leadership. There’s a time for that. There’s a time to really be exacting and then there’s equally a time to ensure that staff has the latitude to do the things that they need to do.
We compensate them very well to utilize their brain power appropriate to the organizational situation in which they find themselves. One of the things that engages people is when you make their work meaningful for them and when you show them that there is a value to this work in terms of an end goal.
But if you’re always telling them what to do, where do they find the meaning in that?
DP: Have you been able to examine the Neighborhood Resource Officer program and how it’s going here in Santa Monica? Do you have an opinion on it?
JS: While I certainly embrace the idea of community policing as a necessity for any kind of contemporary police agency, we have to question consistently how is it working, how do we optimize it and how do we compare our results against our core mission of fighting crime?
… As I look at our patrol deficits, we decided that I would take it to four.
(That’s down from six that held the position when she arrived and eight when the program first began. The move is part of a redefinition of what constitutes the Downtown from a police perspective so that the department can better protect what’s become a bustling commercial and social area.)
We don’t want to eliminate it because it has a value, and it resonates with the community. Equally, so does a low crime rate. So when one has to make a decision, I make decisions based on what is good for the entire city in the long run.
DP: Another big change that occurred when Jackman was here was the 3-12 work schedule. What are your thoughts on 3-12?
(The 3-12 schedule describes a compressed work week in which patrolling officers work three, 12-hour days and then have four days off. Previously, the department was on a 4-10 schedule, with four, 10-hour days. Though 3-12 is said to be popular amongst rank-and-file officers, it has its critics who believe it wears officers out and impacts their performance.)
JS: We are going to revisit it. And I make no bones about that and I have made none since I stepped foot in this police department. I would disagree with you that it’s popular amongst the rank-and-file. I would agree that what is popular with the rank-and-file is four days off.
It is not a consistent schedule with our other business operations. Our detectives are not on 3-12, our court isn’t on 3-12, the administration is not on 3-12. I understand the dynamic of a compressed work schedule and to some degree the benefit. But this organization was already on a compressed work schedule when it was on 4-10 and it promoted a different level of engagement and I think that’s a level of engagement that we’re missing.
… I like to say, and I’m not necessarily beholden to past practices because rarely are past practices synonymous with best practices, and I am beholden to best practices.
DP: Now that the new school year is about to begin, what kind of collaboration will the community see between the police department and the school district?
(Between December 2011 and January 2012, several fights involving students broke out at or around Santa Monica High School. The incidents were described as racially-charged, and led to a massive overhaul of curriculum on the part of the district in an attempt to reduce tensions through education.)
JS: I want to see a bit more of Student Resource Officer participation at the high school level at Samohi. Not in a way that we might think evokes enforcement activities. If that’s appropriate, that’s appropriate, but equally from the standpoint of mentoring, advice, advisory capacity, things like that. I think the evidence shows that where there are those kinds of relationships in schools, there is a better outcome for everyone when there are tensions.