Police: In response to complaints about security, more officers will be visible on downtown streets. SMDP Photo

Despite ongoing understaffing issues inside the police department, residents can expect to see more SMPD officers patrolling the Downtown area.

City Manager David White announced in a May 10 Council meeting that there would be a collaborative increase in policing and outreach efforts to address concerns around public safety and homelessness Downtown.

“A week ago our police chief, working again with his command staff, put together a new special operational unit that will be working in the Downtown and Promenade area, and so I just wanted to run through some of the highlights of that for you this evening, because I know it’s been an area of community discussion and concern,” said White. 

According to White, there will now be two sworn officers and two public safety officers assigned to the Downtown area from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. They will be on foot and on bike providing high SMPD visibility and patrolling the Promenade and parking structures. Public safety officers will continue to perform overnight checks of the parking structures, where homeless people often shelter for the night. These checks began in November in response to resident complaints. 

In addition, the police department will be assigning a neighborhood resource officer to a satellite office on Promenade to provide more direct interaction and coordination with business owners. While an uptick in property crime has been seen citywide, Downtown and Promenade business owners have been acutely impacted by burglary and petty theft. 

“We’ve been robbed three times,” said Peter Trinh, owner of Promenade business Cult and member of the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Board of Directors. “The increased police presence is a totally welcome thing…I think the next piece of the puzzle is making sure we get services for the homeless.” 

The Downtown neighborhood resource officer will also work with the department’s Homeless Liaison Program to connect unhoused individuals in the Downtown area to services and ideally move them off the streets and into shelter. 

Lastly, officers in the Downtown Services Unit will work with members of the HLP team to do overnight checks of all the bus stops in Santa Monica, which will be paid for using Big Blue Bus funds.  

According to Public Information Officer Rudy Flores, the bulk of this work will be completed on an overtime basis as the department is currently understaffed. 

In order to address issues around public safety and homelessness citywide, Police Chief Ramon Batista has temporarily reassigned detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division and officers from Motors and Community Affairs to patrol duty. This effort is to put more SMPD boots on the streets to respond to 911 calls and deter crime. 

The need for a specific focus on issues of homelessness Downtown was underscored by the recently released results of the 2022 Santa Monica Homeless Count. While the total of 806 individuals counted citywide marked an 11 percent decrease from the 2020 count total, there was a 14 percent increase observed in the Downtown and beach areas. 

Councilmember Phil Brock is particularly alarmed about the state of Downtown and in a recent email called for replacing the Downtown Safety Ambassadors with armed private security and for dissolving the Board of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. In the May 10 Council meeting, Councilmember Brock submitted a request for the City Manager’s office to prepare a thorough report for a study session on safety and security on the Promenade, downtown parking garages and the Downtown area. 

“I believe that we need to make it a priority to look at public safety and restore the trust of residents so that they feel safe and comfortable enjoying our downtown,” said Brock. 

Councilmember Gleam Davis said she supported the initiative, but wanted to be aware of heavy demand on the City Manager’s office to produce reports and wanted to ensure this potential study session does not derail existing priorities such as getting a compliant housing element. Brock responded amiably and amended his request to be either a formal study session or a series of shorter reports. The motion passed unanimously.