Santa Monica Police Chief Ramon Batista spoke with the Daily Press for the most recent edition of the Inside The Daily Press podcast to talk about homelessness and some of the ways the department is responding to the crisis. The interview is available online at www.smdp.com/pod.
Calls for “encampments” spiked last year to 1,896, the highest total in six years. While that number is already up 15 percent from 2021, it might actually be an undercount as police officers working an area like the beach or a freeway embankment may contact several nearby encampments during a single call.
The Homeless Emergency
The City has yet to reap any rewards from its recent declaration of Homelessness as a state of emergency and while other jurisdictions are making similar pronouncements, local officials have raised the fear that increased enforcement in nearby communities may push people onto local streets.
SMPD said enforcement by LAPD in the Venice area has a noticeable impact in the areas near the city border.
“We did notice an increase of encampments (typically around the beach area) whenever LA would conduct a sweep,” said Lt. Rudy Flores. “Our HLP team and city services did collaborate and work with LA whenever this occurred, so that we had an opportunity to provide the needed resources or provide education about our city’s encampment laws.”
However, fears about Culver City’s recent banning of tents have yet to come to fruition.
“Currently we have no evidence that Culver City is pushing people to Santa Monica from enforcing their camping law,” said Lt. Flores.
Chief Batista said his officers work to educate individuals who may have been camping in another jurisdiction about local rules and most individuals who want to camp do move on. However, what counts an encampment by the letter of the law may differ from the expectation of the community and even if tents or other structures are present, enforcement for encampments is limited by civil rights legislation.
Batista said it wouldn’t be humane, or legal, to jail people just for being homeless.
“As a human being and as an officer now here in Santa Monica who has had the opportunity to drive around, walk around Downtown with officers and see the level of human suffering, that’s just not, first off, that’s not how I am wired, that’s not how our officers are wired, but even more importantly, because we are following the law, it is not what the 9th Circuit allows us to do.”
The value of partners
While SMPD has developed partnerships with organizations like the Salvation Army, efforts to work and clear some encampments are limited by jurisdictional boundaries.
The freeway embankments and the bluffs to the Montana Bridge are under CalTrans jurisdiction. SMPD does use an online system to report maintenance and encampment issues to CalTrans. While SMPD can provide assistance when asked, local officers do not consistently enforce in those zones unless they are working with the responsible agency. The Public Works department does conduct biweekly clean ups in the city with SMPD assistance for public spaces which at times includes the bluffs and freeway embankments.
While sections of Santa Monica along the train line are Metro property, and technically under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department, SMPD does have the ability to enforce local municipal codes in those ares.
Download the episode wherever you find your podcasts to hear more from the Chief.