Serious crime in Santa Monica increased by 10 percent in 2022 with aggravated assault, robbery, and car theft fueling the rise.
Part 1 Crimes also include burglary and larceny and the preliminary 2022 total for the category was 4,719, up from 4,300 last year but still below 2018’s total of 5,441.
SMPD said that while robbery calls increased by 47% last year to 231, the total was still lower than pre-pandemic levels and that enhanced patrols in the downtown area are helping further reduce incidents.
Car thefts were the largest driver of crime last year with an additional 121 incidents last year (for a total of 541). SMPD said the crime is a regional scourge motivated in part by the spread of information on social media targeting specific models that lack anti-theft technology.
Burglary at businesses declined in 2022 but burglary of homes increased. Theft of personal property, known as larceny, increased due almost entirely to shoplifting. Overall larceny calls increased by 251 incidents with shoplifting accounting for 231 of those. Theft from vehicles also increased while bicycle theft decreased.
Less serious crimes, known as Part 2 (including DUI, public intoxication, simple assault, weapons charges, drug and fraud) increased by 21 percent but are still far short of pre-pandemic levels. Part 2 crimes increased to 3,216 last year, up from 2,668 the year before. According to SMPD, Part 2 crimes peaked recently in 2019 at 4,535.
Simple assault cases, defined as an attempt to cause fear or intimidate (without physical harm), increased by 161 incidents to a total of 742. SMPD said those figures were on par with pre-pandemic levels. Weapon charges hit a five year low of 24 in 2020 and have since increased to a total of 54. Narcotic arrests almost doubled from 123 in 2021 to 228 last year. SMPD said they had success in decreasing fraud cases by sharing tips that helped residents, particularly the elderly, avoid gift card or banking scams.
Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) Ramon Batista addressed the crime trends and challenges facing the department at the Feb. 14 council meeting.
He shared that while the department was understaffed throughout the year, officers responded to an increased number of calls for service, response times were faster and officers made more arrests than the year before.
He also reported that the number of calls related to homelessness was on the rise, gave an update on the department’s drone as first responder program and conveyed his desire for the city to invest in more advanced technology to aid officers in the future, especially leading up to the 2028 olympics.
The SMPD is budgeted for a total of 182 full duty sworn officers, however, Batista said he has about 39 positions unavailable due to various factors including injury, family leave, light duty assignment, academy training or vacancy. The department’s professional staff, who can be deployed to carry out public safety assignments, community service work, traffic service and harbor patrol, is also down by approximately 31 employees who are currently unavailable.
Batista said that 28 new officers were hired in 2022, an increase from the previous few years, but added that he would like to be able to hire even more, with a goal of bringing on 40 new officers in 2023. However, even with these hiring efforts, he said he thinks it will take time before there is an actual increase in the total number of officers on staff due to officers simultaneously leaving the force.
“This is balanced against the fact that we know folks are going to retire,” he said, noting that approximately 53 current SMPD officers will be age-eligible to retire in the coming year. “It is very challenging to fill the ranks and to get to where we need to be as officers begin to fall off and go on long term injury or they’re getting ready to retire.”
He said the department is trying to be proactive in addressing the problem.
“The fact that the City manager and the City management team allow us to continually hire for those vacancies and to look at over-hiring in some cases for our roster vacancies, gives us the ability to stay essentially on par with what we’re losing,” he said.
Batista said that ideally he would like to have 250 officers by the 2028 Olympics.
Calls for service
Batista reported an overall increase of calls for service last year from 101,040 in 2021 to 104,061 in 2022. However, there was a decrease in the number of these calls that came from citizens and an increase in calls initiated by officers.
Batista also noted that the majority of the calls the department received were classified as priority three and four calls, which are the lowest level of urgency.
“These are nuisance type calls: a loud party, a general disturbance, loud music, someone randomly yelling and screaming walking down the road or trespassing calls,” he said. “Priority three and four calls take up the lion’s share of the calls.”
The department received 839 priority zero calls, reports of the most life threatening crime incidents. Batista shared that the department had significantly cut down the time it takes for officers to respond to different types of calls, ensuring priority zero responses in under four minutes.
Types of crime
Part I and Part II crimes, which include the most severe crimes such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault, both increased in the City in 2022. Part I crimes were up by 10% from 2021 and Part II crimes by 21%.
However, Batista reported that arrests by officers were also up significantly, at 53% more in 2022 than 2021.
“They thwarted thievery and robbery, they caught arsonists literally in the act, they spoke to people on the street, they conducted traffic stops that yielded suspects that were carrying stolen property such as mail theft, catalytic converters,” he said. “They confiscated illegal weapons, firearms without serial numbers, and they identified countless persons with serious out of state violent felony warrants for crimes such as aggravated assault, homicide, and sex offenses. Through the officers’ work these criminals were transported back to their home states to face criminal prosecution.”
In 2022, SMPD officers responded to almost 20,000 calls relating to homelessness and nearly 1,900 calls about homeless encampments, an increase of 1382 and 250 calls respectively from the previous year.
Despite this, Batista shared that the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP team) was “severely understaffed.”
“For most of the year the HLP team operated without a sergeant and because of the injuries as described earlier, at times the team consisted of a handful of officers, not the nine officers normally assigned,” he said. “In addition, and for most of the year, the HLP team worked with only one DMH clinician instead of two. The county reshuffled their staff, cutting our staffing by one position and that position has not been replaced.”
Crime in the downtown area increased throughout 2022 to a peak in August/September. Batista highlighted specific efforts targeted at the downtown area and the success of increased holiday patrols from late November to late December.
“We noted during our holiday deployment that we had approximately 95 fewer reported events while we were deployed in comparison to the previous five weeks,” he said.
Technology and planning ahead
Despite being known as Silicon Beach with its cluster of technology companies, Santa Monica has not kept pace with modern technology in the police department.
Batista said the department needs to develop a Crime Information Center that can integrate CCTV, license plate readers and 21st century mapping technology.
“We cannot we cannot continue to attempt to thwart today’s crime with yesterday’s technology,” Batista said.
He said upgrades are necessary to help provide information to the public and help make strategic decisions.
“I was in our crime meeting recently and came to learn that our crime mapping function has been inoperative. Our crime analysts are doing their best. We’re using Google Maps and dots on the map to illustrate where the crime hotspots were occurring. This method is one step above paper pin maps I was using 30 years ago. If we are to protect our community, we need to have the latest suite of products that in an instant, in an instant can visualize the data and tell you what’s up, what’s down and where it’s happening,” he said. “The same goes for our police department’s transparency web portal. At any given time we should be able to tell the public how many calls for service we’ve taken with the crime rate is how many people we’ve stopped, who they were and if they were arrested where they were released.”
He added that he sees technological improvements as a “key component” of being prepared for the 2028 olympics.
“We will test license plate readers in our downtown area and we will bring Live 911 online in 2023,” he said. “This software allows our officers to hear the 911 caller live as you’re speaking with the dispatcher and so often we don’t know exactly what’s going on. This feature helps us build better context into the response. So in an emergency, we are safer and better prepared to serve the public. And we will have a new computer aided dispatching system online this year, replacing the nearly 30 year old system that is currently in place.”
He said SMPD will start sharing a software system with the Office of Emergency Management that will track the progress of 911 calls in real time so callers will know when an officer is dispatched to their incident.
Batista license plate readers are being installed around the city this month.
“What we’re testing out here, hopefully in the next few months, is going to be a concentric ring of license plate reading cameras that are in the downtown area. So we’ll be able to tell if a criminal comes in, commits a crime we’ll be able to figure out more than likely, at what point he entered the city and then what point he got into downtown, and then especially what point he left and then what direction he went.”
He said the department is implementing two systems to review video footage that will help free up man hours and said a recent case required all SMPD detectives spend hours watching video to identify a single car.
“You take out 15 detectives to watch 36 hours of video. You have to look for one blue car and figure out what time it came in and what time what happened around it. And while they’re doing that, our property crimes continue to pile up. They keep coming in and they’re not being worked. And so there is software out there that will focus on what I’m wearing, not what I look like it will focus on the color of the car and within minutes, give us a response as to what we’re looking for,” he said.