As property crime goes up across major cities in California, Santa Monica has also seen an increase in serious crime.
Part 1 crimes (including murder, arson, burglary, assault, and grand theft auto) are up 5.5 percent in the city, to a total of 4,515 incidents in 2016. Nearly 90 percent of those incidents are property related and the City’s downtown business area is seeing the most concentrated problem.
The Police Department divides Santa Monica into four “beats” and SMPD reports 40 percent of all Part One crimes in 2016 happened in Beat 1: the area that encompasses the beach, the Pier and the Promenade.
“We know we need to increase our policing patterns there,” Lt. Saul Rodriguez said. “We’re going to add additional officers out there. You’re going to see them.”
Overall, theft is the major cause for increased crime in Santa Monica.
Police say unattended cars and bikes are the major targets in the city.
Lt. Rodriguez says tackling the car thefts have been a challenging task because of the constant stream of tourists in the City. In 2015, 8.3 million visitors came to Santa Monica, according to Santa Monica Travel and Tourism. Rodriguez says tourists are the most likely to leave bags and electronics unattended in cars, a magnet for smash-and-grab thieves. Shoppers visiting downtown can also become targets when they leave purchases visible in their vehicles.
As Beat 1 includes Downtown (with its shoppers) and the Beach (with its tourists), the area becomes a crime hotspot.
While officers can patrol downtown, it’s up to individual drivers to make sure their cars are not vulnerable to break-in.
“There’s even messages when you go into the parking structures: ‘hey lock up your things and secure your car,’” Rodriguez said.
In response to the increasing numbers, SMPD has plans to increase manpower. Civilian officers will be assigned to patrol the parking structures and SMPD is also working to fill existing vacancies for sworn officers. The new officers will not expand the size of the department, but by backfilling vacant positions, more officers will be on the streets.
Incidents of pick pocketing, purse snatching and shop lifting were relatively stagnant year over year. There were only 11 reported purse snatchings in 2015 and 2016. The number of parts stolen off cars actually went down during that time, from 180 incidents to 143.
Late last year, the SMDP released crime statistics surrounding the three Expo Line stops in Santa Monica. The numbers showed an increase of 54 percent in Part 1 crimes, with nearly half occurring within 1,000 feet of the downtown stop.
However, Lt. Rodriguez was hesitant to attribute the rise in crime to the light rail. The police department does not track how perpetrators traveled get to Santa Monica: whether they live here, drove or took public transportation.
“It’s very rare you have a criminal who commits a crime and tells you how they got to the City,” Rodriguez said. “That’s data that we don’t have right now.”
He said other factors could be contributing to the regional increase in crime and significant changes to California law may be behind the uptick in property crime because fewer offenders are spending time in jail. In order to improve prison overcrowding, AB 109 allowed many non-violent, non-serious offenders to get out of jail early. Two years ago, voters passed Proposition 47, reducing sentences for drug possession and petty theft.
“We’re very mindful that we need to change and adapt to what’s going on,” Rodriguez said, adding that other agencies will also play in reversing the rising tide of property crime. “We can’t do it all. We’re only one component of this thing.”
Light rail remains an extremely safe option for getting to and around the City, according to the Sheriff’s department. Between May 20 and Nov. 20 last year, there were 18 Part 1 crimes committed on the actual train or platforms. Two of those incidents were aggravated assaults related to the shooting that happened on the Downtown Santa Monica Platform.
The rest of the 16 crimes were thefts, nearly all of them involving bicycles.