Editor’s Note: This story originally ran Jan. 30. It is republished here as part of our year-end coverage.
By Kate Cagle
Santa Monica saw a 12 percent increase in serious crime in 2017, with 5,076 “Part 1” incidents, which include murder, arson, burglary, assault and grand theft auto. The spike follows a 5.5 percent increase in the same crimes in 2016.
“We hope that it’s leveled out,” said Lt. Saul Rodriguez with the Santa Monica Police Department, who attributed the increase to legislative changes like Propositions 47 and 57, which reduced sentences for petty theft and drug offenses and allowed parole for nonviolent felons. “We know what our problems are and how to continue to tackle these problems, like property crime.”
Similar to the year before, property crime has driven much of the increase, with 86 percent of serious incidents related to theft. In many cases, items are stolen from cars parked on streets, in private garages or in public lots. Rodriguez said the city is in the process of improving the security cameras inside parking structures to deter smash-and-grab break-ins downtown but simply hiding items can help prevent thefts of opportunity.
There was also a 3.8 percent increase in violent crime year over year, a statistic which includes homicide, rape, robbery, and assault. Rodriguez said there were 407 assaults in 2017, up from 244 the year prior.
The department does not have a definitive reason for the increase.
“I don’t know,” Rodriguez said. While law enforcement continues to blame legislative changes on increasing crime rates, Rodriguez did not have statistics to support whether the same people are responsible for multiple incidents. Officers and victims both complain the jail has become a revolving door for offenders, who are sometimes released the same day they are sentenced.
“We see a lot of recidivism: the same people getting arrested in the daily log. We see it all the time, the same names pop up frequently,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a challenge. It’s more difficult for us to make an impact.”
While crime rates are on the rise, the department struggles to keep up with the number of officers entering retirement as the City seeks to increase patrols on the street while wrangling overtime costs. On Monday, the SMPD swore in five brand new officers, however, five had recently retired in December. The department has the budget for 235 officers but only employees around 215.
“We’re battling with other departments in the area to hire good, quality candidates,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a challenge.”
About a dozen cadets are in the training program right now to become sworn officers.
The department averages about 330 calls for service every day, thirty percent of those are homeless-related, according to Rodriguez. While the number of homeless people sleeping on Santa Monica streets has dramatically increased over the last year, Rodriguez said their proportion of police calls has stayed relatively consistent. Over the past three months, every officer has gone through mandatory training on how to properly deal with homeless residents and those just passing through.
While officers are retraining and the department is working to address the problems, police encourage residents to be more vigilant in the current climate, stashing away valuables when you leave your car and locking the front and back door to your house. Rodriguez said an outside camera and a sign for a home security system can go a long way to deterring home burglaries.
“We have to come up with better strategies on how we are going to educate people and prevent crimes,” Rodriguez said.
Mayor Ted Winterer and City Manager Rick Cole are expected to address the increase in crime at Thursday’s State of the City Address.