The board of Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) voted to move forward with the initiative that will see a private security company patrolling the Third Street Promenade and surrounding area. In a meeting on Thursday evening, CEO of private security firm Covered 6, Chris Dunn and COO Michael Grant, gave a presentation showcasing the professional history of the company together with an outline of the program that will now almost certainly be put into place.

At a special meeting on May 2, board members voted to approve moving forward with a proposal for DTSM to use the nearly $1.7 million currently funding the Ambassador Program to hire a private security company to help police patrol the downtown.

On May 5, a request for proposal was released and posted on the websites of both the international Downtown Association and the California Downtown Association. A total of 11 submissions were received by the deadline of May 26. In the DTSM meeting on May 25, the board voted to create an ad hoc security service selection committee to evaluate and recommend a private security company to provide services in the Downtown district. The committee consisted of Sedman, Lora Vrastil, Michelle Aronson, Julia Ladd and Luke Cain.

Three security firms made the shortlist and presented to that committee, before California-based Covered 6 was selected to advance and present in this meeting. According to Andrew Thomas, CEO of DTSM, “The service provider for our existing programs determined not to respond to the request for proposals we released.”

Thomas says that the existing Community Ambassador program will be reduced in order to fund the Covered 6 security program, adding, “Ambassadors will continue to work cleaning in the Downtown parking structures and on our sidewalks and continue to monitor our parking structure restroom facilities and also serve as parks attendants at Tongva, Palisades and Reed park. Our outreach services will also continue.”

The meeting drew a large crowd of residents and retail owners along with Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete and Councilmember Phil Brock.

“I wanted to voice my concern about public safety and hope that you all can collaborate together and come to a conclusion to best serve our community and keep us all safe and help bring the businesses here and help them want to come here and feel safe when they’re here,” Negrete said.

Brock echoed similar sentiments saying, “I think we have to recognize each and every day that 94,000 people live here. We want them to visit your stores, your restaurants. We want them to feel that the promenade is part of their front yard. And they don’t feel that way right now … We need a show of force at our downtown that says that this downtown is safe and it’s clean.”

Both were very much in favor of voting to move the project forward, as was virtually everyone who was present at the meeting.

All manner of question were raised including hypothetical situations that Covered 6 employees might face, how reliable was there training, when would lethal force be justified and why the CEO of Covered 6 had rejected contractual offers from numerous other cities across the US, including San Francisco, yet had accepted the challenge of enforcing security in Downtown Santa Monica.

“A lot has to do with the people here. If I see people that are going to fight as hard as they have here to make this happen, then I see an opportunity to be successful,” Dunn said. “The other thing is that I have a personal relationship with the city and I have family that has lived here. I grew up here.”

Dunn himself is a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, before he established Covered 6 over a decade ago. The company has worked on security projects all over the world and has its own training facility in Moorpark, just north of Thousand Oaks. The company boasts extremely rigorous training and candidate screening and employs many ex-law enforcement officers and former members of the armed services. It has also already operated in the city of Beverly Hills for some time.

A map of Downtown Santa Monica showing the designated areas Covered 6 will patrol

According to Dunn, security teams will operate with both armed and unarmed personnel, but all will be wearing bodycams. He says their primary mission is to de-escalate every single situation no matter how long it takes.

“I don’t think it’s about putting barbed wire and guards at every corner or putting guns on the street, that actually is proven not to necessarily work. That’s a scare tactic … And we do have a 100 percent record of not using force, when it isn’t necessary. It’s very rare and we’re very reluctant,” Dunn said.

For the proposed plan, coverage of the Downtown area will break down as follows: Zone 1 represents the three block length of the Third Street Promenade. Zone 2 surrounds Zone 1, providing a larger perimeter extending to 4th Ct, Ocean Ave, California Ave and Broadway. Zone 3 covers the area between 4th Ct and 7th Ct and approximately Wilshire Blvd to Colorado Ave. Zone L is from 7th Ct to 8th Ct and runs from Wilshire Blvd to Olympic Blvd. Finally, Zone 0 is a higgledy-piggledy shape incorporating the Santa Monica Place Mall, the Metro E-Line station and a little bit of Colorado Ave.

According to Covered 6, Zones 1 and 2, which also include the Downtown parking structures, will receive 100 percent coverage, Zone 3 will receive between 10 percent and as much as is needed and finally Zones L and Zone O will each receive between five percent and as much as is required. According to DTSM, deployment will be determined by need, by coordinating with SMPD and by zone of service.

A motion was made by Eric Sedman to authorize staff to enter into negotiations for an agreement with Covered 6 for a period of one year and was seconded by Julia Ladd. Ten of the 11 board members present voted yes, with Ericka Lesley abstaining.

According to Thomas, DTSM doesn’t anticipate Covered 6 presenting to Santa Monica City Council. However, on July 18, DTSM will present its Operational Report and within this work plan is the scope of services that includes funding the private security in Downtown Santa Monica. This must be approved by Council for the project to go ahead. The program is a one-year pilot funded by DTSM and the City is not contributing at this time.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.