When it comes to community policing in Santa Monica, new Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) Chief Ramon Batista said increasing neighborhood patrols is key. That’s why Batista said the department will be moving officers off other assignments to focus on responding to emergency calls.

Batista, who was hired by the City in October 2021, spoke to Santa Monica Daily Press Editor in Chief Matt Hall recently about the newest crime statistics released by the Department in February. Stats for last year show that Part 1 crimes — crimes considered the most serious including murder, assault and grand theft auto — were slightly down in 2021 compared to 2020. However, the community perception remained that crime was on the rise, partially due to an increase in other, less serious offenses.

“I want to make sure that we are present to be able to make a difference in those situations because all our residents deserve to live their lives peacefully and not in fear of crime or in fear of somebody yelling at them when they’re just trying to either leave their apartment or get into their car or walk their kids to school,” Batista said during his recent conversation with the Daily Press.

Batista said the Department had been staffed with the same number of officers for 15 or 20 years, but in that time the City’s population and business districts have grown, and with them, the need for more patrol officers.

“I totally empathize with our community when they say, ‘I haven’t seen an officer through my neighborhood in months or weeks.’ Because it’s true,” Batista said. “I mean, when I think about the number of folks [officers] that we have that are out [on injury] and the staffing numbers that we’ve had for 20 years, it doesn’t meet the needs that we have today. It doesn’t mean, though, that we are not going to continually focus and reimagine the way that we go out and deploy.”

His current plan is to move a portion of traffic officers and detectives to “rotate through patrol” for certain shifts every week, bulking up the number of officers available to respond to 9-1-1 calls.

“Detectives may not be investigating a case — detectives may be out taking calls for service,” Batista said. He said it was because, with staffing levels so tight, “there’s almost no room for error” when it comes to scheduling shifts.

The Chief said that, “without a doubt,” there would come a time when he would need to request City Council hire more officers to better staff the department. Batista estimated there were around 10 or 11 current officer vacancies in the Department.

Speaking of the 2021 statistics, Batista said that, while he was glad to see that serious crimes such as rape, residential robbery and overall larceny were down, he was more concerned with numbers trending up: crimes related to firearms used in aggravated assault, catalytic converter thefts and arson.

“When you ask me what catches my attention, it’s anything that goes up,” Batista said. “And I want to ask why, and I’m asking what the numbers are.”

The full interview will be posted to the SMDP podcast, Inside The Daily Press on Monday.

emily@smdp.com