Everything you always wanted to know about the decision to hire a private security firm for Downtown Santa Monica but were afraid to ask
The rising levels of crime in the Downtown area, together with the worsening homelessness crisis and most recently, the altercation Councilmember Phil Brock was involved with, have further fuelled the opinion that something needs to be done to help restore the confidence and security to what was once the pride of Santa Monica, the city’s principal retail zone and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Southern California.
Add to this the fact that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board recently voted to move ahead with a plan to create a new police force dedicated to patrolling the County’s bus and train system and it’s hard not to think things are getting out of control.
As we reported last month, the board of Downtown Santa Monica Inc. voted to green light an initiative that will see a private security company patrolling the Third Street Promenade and surrounding area.
This vote followed a meeting on May 2, where board members voted to approve moving ahead 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. Consequently, 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 and 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.
Three private security firms made the shortlist and presented to that committee, before California-based Covered 6 was selected to advance, ultimately winning the approval of the board in the vote taken on June 15, 2023. However, before the vote was cast, the CEO of Covered 6, Chris Dunn and COO Michael Grant, were questioned quite extensively by both board members, together with gathered members of the public and retail owners and managers.
Oh yes, a private security company called Covered 6 is set to be hired to provide extra policing, security and community services within the downtown area in the city of Santa Monica. It’s a pilot program of sorts, currently planned for a period of 12 months.
Who are these guys?!
The private security company Covered 6 has worked on security projects all over the world and has its own training facility in Moorpark, just north of Thousand Oaks. It boasts extremely rigorous training and candidate screening and employs many ex-law enforcement officers and former members of the armed services. Moreover, it has also already operated in the city of Beverly Hills for some time. Dunn himself is a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, before he established Covered 6 over a decade ago.
Who decided that this was necessary?
This is a decision made by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), a private, non-profit organization that works in association with the city to manage services and operations in the Downtown area of Santa Monica while promoting economic stability, growth and community life within the neighborhood.
Who put them in charge?!
The 13-member board of directors of DTSM are made up of six members who are appointed by the City Council, six are directly elected by property owners within the district and one is the Santa Monica City Manager or his/her designee. DTSM manages the property-based Business Assessment District bounded by Ocean Ave to the west, Wilshire Blvd to the north, Lincoln Blvd to the east and the Santa Monica Freeway to the south.
Where’s the cash for this coming from?
The estimated cost to fund the one year pilot program is in the region of $1.7million and that comes from two different sources. According to Andrew Thomas, CEO of DTSM, $1.1million is what had been allocated to the existing Community Ambassador program. The remaining $600,000 comes from the overall DTSM budget, made up of assessments and property taxes from retail outlets. It is not being paid for by residential Santa Monica taxpayers.
“We’re fortunate that we have such a healthy reserve that we can draw from,” Thomas says, adding, “For this pilot program we can afford to provide this service and not draw from other services and programs. But, if we take the program further, in the future, then we won’t be drawing on our fat reserves any longer, we’ll be going into major organs. It would impact our ability to perform other functions that are equally as important.”
Consequently, should this experiment-of-sorts prove to be an unparalleled success in 12 months, there will need to be a discussion involving the City Council as to where the funding will come from.
“I should add that this contract is very important to Covered 6,” Thomas said, adding, “So much so, that they’re going to supplement what they’re already set to provide us, with additional personnel to really get us started on the right track.”
Why can’t that money be spent on extra cops?
It’s no way near as simple as that. Putting aside for a moment that $1.7 million won’t fund an entire platoon of new SMPD officers, when you factor in salaries, training, pensions and everything else that’s part of that career job, it probably only pays for a couple of new officers. The more pertinent issue is that funding for additional police officers doesn’t come from the DTSM.
“A private entity cannot employ the sworn officers of any public entity, whether a municipal police department like mine or a sheriff’s department or any other city, county, state or federal law enforcement agency,” Lieutenant Erika Aklufi, Office of the Chief of Police, said.
“The city could increase the number of budgeted police officers and continue to pay for us out of the general fund, but it is still up to the Chief in his sole discretion to determine where officers are to be used,” Aklufi said, adding, “We already staff a contingent of officers in the downtown footprint and these officers will support and collaborate with the security officers because we believe it will increase public safety by filling in some gaps that we can’t or don’t provide.”
Will they be armed?
You’d be forgiven for thinking after even a cursory glance at the Covered 6 website that the streets of Downtown are about to turn into a bad day in Damascus. Yes, it’s jam-packed with pictures of ex-law enforcement and ex-military types dressed head-to-toe in merc chic: tac vests, pouches aplenty, body armor and combat clothing, shooting sidearms and assault rifles
However, it has been stressed that the majority of the Covered 6 employees will not be carrying any kind of firearms. According to Thomas, there will be one shift supervisor who will be carrying a sidearm and that’s all. The current plan is to have a morning, afternoon and evening shift and during each of those, only one individual will be equipped with a gun. “That person will be former law enforcement who served honorably and was discharged as such” says Thomas.
It’s not known yet if the patrolling employees will carry non-lethal forms of self-defense yet. It also hasn’t been confirmed yet if each employee will be wearing a body-cam, but Thomas believes this is entirely possible.
Are they going to dress like they’re expecting World War III?
Unlike the city of Beverly Hills, where Covered 6 are already operating, the city of Santa Monica has a municipal code that states “No person employed to guard by persons or property or engaged in the business of guarding persons or property, other than a person duly authorized by a public agency so to do, shall wear a uniform which is black, navy blue, or dark blue in color.”
So, while their attire won’t look like it’s just come from the Barbie movie, which is a damn shame, they can’t dress like a police officer, which is exactly what’s happening in Beverly Hills. Quite what the uniform will look like is not yet known and Thomas says that’s one of the fine details that still has to be worked out.
What areas will they patrol?
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.
Will it be a 24-hour service?
No, it won’t be 24-hours. Thomas says that Covered 6 will coordinate with SMPD to determine the best hours of operation, but it will be seven days a week made up of three shift changes on a daily basis. “My feeling is that they’ll start early morning and then go pretty late into the evening,” he says.
Who watches the watchmen?
The employees of Covered 6 will report directly to the Santa Monica Police Department and in the event that any kind of action is needed, the SMDP will be called immediately and that includes any kind of arrest.
So, these guys have been doing the same in Beverly Hills?
“The real success in Beverly Hills has been the reduction in crime in almost all categories,” says Dunn, adding, “This team has virtually responded to 600 incidents and has become a model for other law enforcement agencies. More recent is the success in dealing with the unhoused and mentally ill. Often we are able to provide assistance and cancel these calls for the police department which frees up their time to focus on other services.”
What happens next?
The Santa Monica City Council is set to meet again next week, on Tuesday, 25 July where the issue will be discussed and finalized. A commencement date will more than likely be set not long after for the program to begin and Thomas believes this will be very soon, probably sometime in early September.
“At the police department, our constant focus is ensuring public safety. We recognized several years ago that security personnel in the downtown area, including the Promenade, parks, and parking structures, can help increase safety for our residents and visitors,” said SMPD Chief Ramon Batista.
“We’ve supported DTSM’s efforts to select the best service provider who understands the unique challenges inherent to Santa Monica and the Downtown area in particular. We’re confident a collaboration between the police department and Covered 6 will be successful for Downtown Santa Monica.”
Council will hear DTSM’s plans for security, partnerships and programs at their July 25 meeting.