Unrest: Santa Monica Police Department officials said there is no threat. File Photo

Interim Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks was caught off-guard when L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva toured Downtown offering residents suggestions on tackling homelessness — without contacting her or any City official.

The visit took place on July 6 at the behest of a group of Downtown property owners, who are frustrated with what they perceive as a deterioration of conditions on the Promenade and in the nearby garages, where several unhoused individuals shelter.

A week later on July 14, Seabrooks spoke over the phone with Villanueva, who she reported reached out to her in response to the criticism levied by Mayor Sue Himmelrich in a recent Daily Press article.

Himmelrich’s statement, issued on behalf of the City and SMPD, expressed frustration that Villanueva neglected to inform officials of his visit. Seabrooks echoed this sentiment.

“In my experience, and I’ve been in law enforcement for shy of 40 years, It’s very unusual for an executive representing another entity that is not the primary law enforcement entity to not reach out and, as a courtesy, speak to the Police Chief,” she said.

Following the phone conversation with Villanueva, Seabrooks said she is not opposed to collaboration and welcomes any resource to address homelessness. However, she is confused about how Sheriff’s deputies would help and believes that SMPD already has a strong system in place to tackle the issue in a compassionate and constitutional manner.

“This isn’t about slapping back at the Sheriff or anything like that, but it is an acknowledgment that this police department has the capability and a proven track record of interfacing on homeless issues in a way that meets our community’s expectations and standards,” said Seabrooks.

While the key talking point of Villanueva’s visit was a suggestion to hire Sheriff’s deputies to augment SMPD’s efforts Downtown, Seabrooks said this did not come up in their conversation. The conversation instead focused on Villanueva’s plan to take a more active role in regulating public space on the Westside.

“He did talk about providing resources on the beach from Malibu to Marina del Rey, because he believes in the importance of keeping public spaces open and available to use by the public,” said Seabrooks. “In my view there is nothing precluding the use of our beaches and open space for use by the public.”

In a meeting on July 12 hosted by non-profit Beaches and Parks 4 All, Villanueva said he wants to deploy deputies to patrol this section of beaches and address encampments to make the beaches “livable and safe for everyone.”

On Santa Monica’s beaches there are currently several forces working collaboratively to connect individuals with housing and services, while SMPD is responsible for enforcing no-camping laws. These include SMPD’s Homeless Liaison Program, The People Concern’s C3 team, and West Coast Care.

They have doubled down on efforts over the past two weeks as ongoing interventions on the Venice Boardwalk have resulted in an uptick in people camping on local beaches.

“Whatever they do moving forward will need to be a collaborative effort to make sure that it doesn’t work at cross purposes to work being conducted by the men and women of the Santa Monica Police Department,” said Seabrooks, referring to the possibility of Sheriff’s deputies appearing on local beaches.

In terms of the situation in the Downtown parking garages, which sparked residents’ initial call to have Villanueva visit, Seabrooks said the police department is well aware of the problems. These include unhoused individuals living in garages, defecating openly, and reports of drug use.

According to Seabrooks, the problem grew during the pandemic because it became difficult to move unhoused people. This was partly due to County orders to not disrupt encampments and because there were less shelter beds available.

“Yes we understand the unsightliness, yes we understand that people want a different outcome and we want a different outcome for those individuals, but we have to work within the law to get that done,” said Seabrooks, adding that SMPD would continue to use its network of service providers to address the area.

It is unclear what Sheriff’s deputies could legally do differently to move unhoused individuals from the Downtown garages. LASD does have a similar unit to SMPD’s Homeless Liaison Program called the Homeless Outreach Service Team, which focuses on outreach efforts to connect unhoused individuals to services.

“If there’s something that we can do with someone who has some neat new resolution oriented solution, I’d love to hear it,” said Seabrooks. “But political theater and theatrics and showing up and making pronouncements isn’t necessarily that.”