Reed Park (File photo)

The City of Santa Monica is considering deploying hospitality ambassadors in Reed Park to discourage antisocial behavior and crime.

City Council discussed how to make Santa Monica’s parks and beach safer and cleaner at its meeting Tuesday, directing City staff to research the cost of stationing ambassadors and installing lighting, cameras or other security features at Reed and other parks and funding community-organized park events and activities like the Meet Me at Reed family fun day series to deter criminal activity.

During the discussion, Chief of Police Cynthia Renaud and Mayor Gleam Davis said that while serious crime is not a significant problem in Santa Monica’s parks – only seven Part 1 crimes, such as assault or robbery, have been committed in the past six months – residents perceive certain parks as unsafe because some homeless individuals use them as a place to do drugs, urinate and defecate or engage in sexual acts.

Photographs and videos of public urination and masturbation have been widely shared on social media, Renaud said, but such activities are misdemeanors and officers can only make arrests when they witness those crimes.

“The police department owns this problem and we own those criminal acts,” she said. “Unfortunately, the urination and masturbation in public are misdemeanors and the law reads that a misdemeanor not committed in my presence I cannot enforce.”

Council said the issues of park safety and homelessness should not be conflated, however, noting that many homeless individuals are themselves victims of crime in the parks and at the beach. Davis said the city will need to provide services to the homeless to address community concerns about the parks.

“In my mind, when I hear people talk about safety in the parks, a lot of what they’re talking about are activities being done by homeless persons,” Davis said. “It’s important to remember that the two are interlinked to some extent. People who are concerned about safety in the parks also need to support the programs we’re putting forth to ameliorate the situations of people experiencing homelessness.”

The Recreation & Parks Commission, however, has described the situation as a safety crisis and asked Council to station a police officer at Reed for 90 days as a pilot program. The commission also asked Council to consider creating a shelter where people who are currently sleeping at Reed can sleep during the day.

“When a police presence is in the parks, people feel more safe coming to the parks,” said Commissioner John C. Smith.

Council asked staff to look at the cost of the suggested pilot program compared to posting Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. ambassadors in the park, warning that it would be far more expensive, and to examine the effect the 20 new officers Santa Monica Police Department is training will have on park safety once they are put on patrol.

City Manager Rick Cole said he did not see the point in stationing a police officer at Reed because criminal and antisocial behavior does not reach most parts of the park, such as the tennis courts, tot lot and Miles Playhouse.

“The concern is the bathroom and the flat part, which is less than one acre,” Cole said. “If we start assigning police officers to one acre, we’ll be going down a very slippery slope, not just in terms of cost but in tying the hands of our police department to respond to crime.”

Public service officers (PSOs), formerly classified as park rangers, already patrol the parks and beach, Cole added.

Council also asked staff to find local funding sources for the two homeless outreach teams the City has created in the last three years using one-time Los Angeles County funding and approach the developer behind the Proper Hotel, which is opening across the street from Reed, about partnering with the City to make the park more welcoming.

In addition, staff will investigate the possibility of restricting access to the Santa Monica Beach at night, but councilmembers said the Coastal Commission has jurisdiction over the beach and does not typically favor beach curfews.

The City will be monitoring a set of data points to measure the effectiveness of its current and future strategies to address park safety. The data points include the numbers of events, police officers deployed, park rule violations and homeless individuals connected with services.

madeleine@smdp.com

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1 Comment

  1. What kind of training do Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. ambassadors have for dealing with homeless, violence or other anti social behavior by anyone in the park (not just homeless)? Seems like a risk to ask them to do the police or PSO’s job in order to save some money. The city has invested a lot of funds into redeveloping and marketing Reed Park as a family friendly site. It seems this investment should be balanced against the cost on one PSO at the park.

    Also corralling homeless persons into an on site”shelter” seems problematic in terms of people’s rights. Perhaps they could borrow a cage from homeland security.

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