City Council voted unanimously 7-0 to approve the proposal to hire a private security company to provide extra policing, security and community services within the downtown area at their July 25 meeting.
This will take the form of a pilot program and is currently planned for a period of 12 months at a cost of $1.7 million. Private security firm Covered 6 will have the honor of keeping the Promenade prim and proper following a 90-ish minute discussion this week that covered several elements of operations in the downtown zone.
The decision to hire additional security was prompted by concerns over crime in the Downtown area, together with the worsening homelessness crisis. Tuesday’s decision by council was actually a validation of a proposal put forward by Downtown Santa Monica Inc, the nonprofit that oversees the city’s premier retail zone. The security proposal was part of a larger discussion on DTSM’s annual budget but the concept occupied the lion’s share of the time.
The majority of funding, a total of $1.1million, is a reallocation from the existing Community Ambassador program. The rest comes from the overall DTSM budget, made up of assessments and property taxes from retail outlets.
Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete asked that given this new program replaces the existing Community Ambassador program, what will happen to the 16 current employees? Andrew Thomas, CEO of DTSM replied that unfortunately they will no longer be required, adding that they will have opportunities to relocate to other operations in the region conducted by the vendor that supplied them, a company called Block by Block.
Covered 6 Chief Operating Officer Mike Grant clarified that there will be three shifts operating throughout the day, from early in the morning to late at night. Each shift will have a supervisor and that individual — and only that individual — will be armed. No one else will carry a firearm of any kind. Grant also clarified that any 911 call will still result in the response of a Santa Monica Police Department officer, not a Covered 6 employee.
The issue of guns featured prominently in the discussion.
“I’m not comfortable with any private security forces being armed,” said Councilmember Jesse Zwick. “I don’t understand what instance we would ever want private citizens firing weapons on the Third street Promenade. The use of deadly force, even by our police officers who are highly trained … is a remarkably delicate issue. And I just don’t feel comfortable entrusting that to any other private body that doesn’t have the same oversight. And personally, I would be more likely to keep my family away from this area if this was the direction which we decided to go in.”
According to Grant, in the 10 years that the company has existed and in all of the locations where they’ve been hired, including currently in Beverly Hills, there has only been one instance where an employee has had to draw their weapon.
“To clarify for that firearm incident, the officer actually did not fire the weapon,” Grant said, adding, “They intervened in an attempted murder that was taking place outside of the gates of North Beverly Park where one female was shooting at another female. Officers pursued the shooter, and they were eventually arrested by the Beverly Hills Police Department.”
Chair of DTSM, Eric Sedman, said the new company is meant to complement current police patrols.
“In the year that this program has been developed, there’s been a lot of talk about security and the need for additional security. I think the police are doing a fantastic job in Santa Monica with the level of personnel that they have, but there is a lane for what we call security that is open in Santa Monica as it is in other areas,” he said.
According to Sedman, the security guards will mimic the feeling of police patrols and hopefully change the perception of safety downtown.
“What Covered 6 has done over the year that we’ve been discussing a deployment in Santa Monica, is fit a program into that lane,” he said. “We don’t have a safety issue as much as we do a perception of safety relating to behavioral issues of primarily unhoused individuals in Santa Monica. And the program that Covered 6 has developed will give the public that feeling, that extra layer of engagement, higher level than ambassadors, because their officers that are going to be on the beat will be like old fashioned beat cops.”
The Covered 6 proposal was included in one motion that also incorporated all of DTSM’s other items, including approval of the fiscal year 2023-24 budget, continued activation of the Promenade plus a vending cart program and activation of the Parking Structure 6 rooftop space as an outdoor movie theater. The motion was made by Councilmember Oscar de la Torre and seconded by Negrete.
However, despite passing unanimously, some councilmembers expressed concern over the effectiveness of the concept.
“I’ll admit, I have skepticism that this will produce the changes that we all desire,” said Zwick. “I worry that whatever security service we hire won’t cause our residents to return to their retail shopping habits to what they were prior to the pandemic. And yet despite all those observations, I’m willing to defer to DTSM, the board and those that pay the assessment, to what they think is best in terms of spending the taxes through which they’re assessed.”