During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, all seven councilmembers voted to approve the proposal from the Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) board to hire a private security company to provide extra policing, security and community services within the downtown area.
And while it’s been established that, with the exception of the single shift supervisor no one will be carrying any kind of firearm, it’s been repeatedly stressed how crucial it is that this company, Covered 6, be properly prepared to handle the homeless and mentally ill population of the Downtown area.
“Primarily we hire for emotional intelligence first and critical thinking skills. And the officers that we hire have to be extroverted, outgoing, super approachable, friendly. I was a police officer for 30 years, retired chief of police and city manager. So I’ve utilized [my experience] to hire the officers specifically for these types of accounts so that they’re highly approachable and they’re ambassadors for your city,” Covered 6 Chief Operating Officer Mike Grant said.
“So they should be looking for opportunities to help residents, shoppers, visitors, tourists and so on to find their parking spaces, find stores, good places to eat and be able to engage in friendly conversation,” Grant said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete said that she’d actually engaged in conversation with an on-duty Covered 6 employee in Beverly Hills, where they’re already operating, without revealing her identity as a City of Santa Monica councilmember. According to Negrete, this individual remarked that in order to make people feel safe, it’s not about looking scary.
“He said something to the effect of ‘as a matter of fact, it’s having a smile on your face and engaging with people so that they feel like there’s someone to come up to,’” she said.
Negrete then addressed the issue of dealing with the mentally ill, asking how Covered 6 employees would deal with this sensitive issue.
“We engage those people in conversations. We try to establish a rapport with them. The difference between us and let’s say law enforcement or fire, is that we can take the entire shift to engage in a conversation,” Grant said.
“So, we’re not going to get tagged with a call or be pulled away for any reason. We can actually sit there, stand with the person and engage in conversation for as long as it takes. If we identify that the situation is getting out of hand, then we would call law enforcement to stand by.
“But at the same time, we don’t want to become a burden to law enforcement, so we’re going to take as much time as it takes to actually stay there, have a conversation with a person, and get them the resources that they need. And that’s primarily what our mission is for the homeless, to get them to be able to utilize the resources that you already have available in the city.”
Grant emphasized that deescalation was a key component in their professional protocol, saying, “We actually have our own use of force policy that’s above what the Bureau of Investigative Services demands from security officers. And all of our officers are highly trained. They’re trained to deescalate situations.”
Melissa Lee, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Covered 6, spoke of the current software, called WellSky, that’s used to track homeless people in Santa Monica. “I don’t know if that’s going to be a good fit for us [WellSky] because it’s a really big platform. So, we’re talking to developers to create something easy that our patrols can use in the field that we can then access … and then put that information into a bigger program like the HMIS system that’s currently being used.
“One thing that also makes us unique is that we are not bound to any specific policies or procedures. We really want to help people, that’s why we’ve invested so much in this. Mike [Grant] is not on the budget. I’m not on the budget. Chris [Dunn, CEO] is not on the budget. We’re coming here because we actually care about Santa Monica,” Lee said.
“The level of service Covered 6 will provide in Downtown Santa Monica will meet the needs of our community. These private officers’ most effective tool is not a weapon; it is their training, judgment, and ability to de-escalate challenging situations,” Andrew Thomas, Chair of DTSM, told the Daily Press. “Our community is confident and thankful for the work of our incredibly capable Santa Monica Police Department. Private officers will not replace sworn officers, nor do they need to.”