Police: Despite serious crime rates rising, most response times are falling and the number of 911 calls are down. SMDP photo

The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) has been awarded $6.125 million in state grant funding to continue and enhance efforts to combat organized retail theft in the City.

Santa Monica was one of 38 local law enforcement agencies awarded funds through the Organized Retail Theft prevention grant program. Funding will directly support the ongoing targeted, innovative, and technology-based efforts by the SMPD to improve safety for residents and business owners.

“We are glad that the state has joined forces with local agencies to acknowledge that organized retail theft doesn’t just affect large corporations — it hurts our small businesses, puts employees and shoppers in danger, and it creates feelings of unease and fear in the community,” Police Chief Ramon Batista said in a statement.

This initiative compliments the continued work the SMPD is doing locally by adding focused deployments in major shopping areas and in conjunction with other local agencies, including joining the Los Angeles County Retail Theft Task Force created to collaboratively address high-profile retail theft incidents.

Batista announced in the June 27, 2023 City Council meeting that he was applying for the grant being made available to police departments statewide targeted to issues of retail theft. During that meeting, Council approved its biennial budget ($740.9 million in FY 2023-24 and $746.4 million in FY 2024-25) however, no additional funding was allocated to supplement the department’s already allotted $113.3 million and $117.7 million respectively.

In response to a number of questions from councilmembers, Batista said the department has the money it requires for this year, but he is looking to improve the department’s situation, both in terms of officers and resources, in the future.

Batista said the department is utilizing technology that doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, such as more advanced security cameras, as a way to increase efficiency and free up human officers to respond to more serious incidents.

However, the department does have some big ticket items on its wishlist including establishing a new Crime Information Center that would help analyze information to determine more efficient uses of police time.

“With this grant money Santa Monica PD has an opportunity to establish a truly advanced real-time crime center that can make a significant difference in the safety of our residents, businesses, and visitors,” Batista told the Daily Press.

“Working only within the confines of the small percentage of our budget that can be spent on equipment and software, we would never have the resources to build a technology-based hub of this caliber. With the additional funding we will be able to meaningfully deploy our contingent of hard-working officers by aggregating crime data, synthesizing it, and communicating it in a timely manner.”

This new funding, authorized by Governor Gavin Newsom, will further the establishment of the Santa Monica Analytical Real-Time Center, or SMART Center, which will bring together technology and support staff to synthesize and interpret real-time data to strategically allocate police resources to address crime throughout the city.

According to SMPD, the center will help aggregate data and coordinate police response by using existing and coming technology including:

• Closed-circuit television cameras and a video management system

• Automated license plate readers, both mobile and at fixed locations

• Unmanned aircraft systems that can respond to incidents quickly and start collecting information for officers

• Live911, a program that allows officers to hear 911 calls as they are being received

Santa Monica police officers are making more arrests this year, but according to recent information presented to City Council, the rate of serious crime has now returned to pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, after years of being understaffed, the department is making progress towards hiring enough officers to actually fill its ranks

“Our new ceiling, thanks to Measure CS, is 228. We’re currently in line to bring on about seven new officers and that’ll take us to about 221, but due to the number of retirements that we can forecast, I think that we’ll be down to about 215 by about the beginning of the year,” Batista said.

“Promoting a clean and safe Santa Monica is a top priority to support the safety and wellbeing of all who live, work and visit our great city,” City Manager David White said. “I commend the police department for the work they’ve already done securing this grant and look forward to seeing the tangible impacts of this funding and future strategic initiatives.”


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.