SMDP: Despite some alarming fluctuations earlier in the year, serious crime is still up on the last 12 months. SMPD


Police Chief Batista's Report: Rise in Crime and Arrests in Santa Monica, Decline in 911 Calls, and Community Concerns

Santa Monica police officers are making more arrests this year but according to recent information from Santa Monica Police Chief Ramon Batista, the rate of serious crime has now returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Batista presented Council with an analysis of recent crime statistics this week comparing the first eight months of this year with previous years.

According to Batista, 911 calls to the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) are down by 7.6%, from 70,101 to 64,744, a return to pre-pandemic levels, with 76% community initiated and 24% officer initiated, approximately the same ratios to last year.

The average call response times were also almost entirely all down. They are broken down into four categories: a priority zero is any life threatening crime that’s occurring right at the moment when SMPD receives the call and could be something like an open 911 line, a burglary that is occurring right at that moment or a bomb threat, for instance. A priority two would be burglar alarm, drunk driver or suspicious activity. It’s essentially where something is occurring, but there’s a slight time delay.

A priority three is all about municipal code violations, which includes disturbing the peace, panhandling, encampment-related reports, urinating in public and so on. Lastly, priority four includes parking violations, speeding tickets and such like.

“And just so you know, 1% of the total calls that we’ve received are priority zeros, 13% are priority one, 25% priority two, 32% priority three and 29% priority four. So you see that the lion’s share of the work that we do lies in priorities two through four,” Batista said.

“What is also of note here is that over the course of the last year, the last eight months, we’ve seen a decline in the number of encampment calls by about 11½ %, which is significant.”

However, arrests were up by 32.4% on last year, but remained well below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 (some 72% lower), with 68% of those being unhoused individuals, remaining very similar to the number last year in 2022 (which was 66%). Moreover, the crime rate was up by 5% and sadly has surpassed pre-pandemic levels just creeping past the number recorded in 2019.

“What I noted is that in the first quarter of the year, I was alarmed because we were seeing about a 15% increase, but since that time, it has leveled off. And so now we’re sitting at about a 5% increase in part one crime,” Batista said.

“Part one” crimes are about as serious as you can get and include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and larceny. “Part two” crimes include simple assault, forgery, fraud, vandalism, DUI, vagrancy, weapons and so on and those numbers are up by 10% compared to 2022, but are also still below pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

The crime rate for Part one incidents taking place in the downtown area of the city are down by 7% and part two crimes are down in the same district by an impressive 73%.

“So in summary, I’ll tell you, part one crimes are up 5% and as my boss told me today, any number that goes up is not anything I want to look at. And so I apologize for that, but that’s where we’re at,” said Batista adding, “We are looking at over 5,000 calls fewer than last year and I think that’s part and parcel to the response from the officers and the work that they’re doing.”

Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete referenced the recent Downtown Santa Monica Inc meeting where 75 or so business owners and retail representatives voiced their frustrations with the Third Street Promenade and asked, “What can we continue to do as a council?” adding, “What can we do, because our hands are tied, right? There’s County, there’s state and there’s federal laws [sic] that supersede the City Council of Santa Monica. And that can be very frustrating.”

“I’ll tell you that what you do, day in and day out, in that you attend our ceremonies, that you say ‘hi’ to the police officers, that you show encouragement and support, all go towards their feeling that they’re able to go out there and do the work,” Batista said.

“And that I tell you goes a long, long way, because they’re not just feeling it from you as our community leaders, but that it’s echoed within the community. There are very few places that I’ve been, if any, where there is any feeling that we don’t need to have officers there in the area, everybody is supportive and wants them there.”

Finally, Batista reminded the residents of Santa Monica to call 911 in the event of an emergency, but to also use the 311 number in a non-emergency event that still requires police intervention.

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.