Back in May, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. voted to approve a new security measure that would ultimately replace the Community Ambassador service. Despite some concerns over having a paramilitary organization patrolling the Promenade, City Council voted unanimously to move ahead. The private security company awarded the contract is called Covered 6 and it will soon begin a pilot program currently planned for a period of 12 months at a cost of $1.7 million. While Downtown isn’t quite Dodge City, keeping the streets safe is going to require a unique blend of enforcement and empathy, so we met the company charged with doing just that…
Upon arriving at the headquarters of Covered 6, it’s safe to say that whatever my expectations were, the reality was rather different. It’s true, when the Daily Press was granted rare and exclusive access to the training facility of the private security firm, I’d hoped to see people dressed like ninjas, being shot at, dodging flamethrowers and abseiling down walls, all inside of a giant, dormant volcano.
However, rather than set up shop inside a sensational, secret lair worthy of the most extravagant Bond villains, the company that’s being hired to patrol the Downtown area of Santa Monica instead has a very unassuming facility, based in Moorpark, Ventura County. Covered 6 occupies the largest of three structures at the Patriot Commerce Center business park and there isn’t a single attack helicopter or armored personnel carrier in sight, just a lot of very beige buildings.
Perhaps it’s part of a clever, suburban camouflage strategy, but the buildings do all look the same and no fanciful signage adorns the Covered 6 HQ exterior. But, I would later learn that this probably has more to do with modesty than any attempt to remain undetected under a deliberately-dull cloak of concealment.
A large reception area lies to the left, through the main doors and to the right is an area referred to as the R&D Room. In here is an impressive array of tactical clothing and equipment on display, together with workbenches and a corner set aside for photography and video recording. According to CEO Chris Dunn, since Covered 6 is partnered with a tactical clothing manufacturer, they are able to actually design and produce their own specific pieces of equipment as and when they’re needed.
“This room is where the innovation happens,” says Dunn. “This is where we actually make the gear that is better, stronger, faster, lighter. We’ve even made uniforms for organizations that aren’t as scary-looking, we need the protection, but we didn’t want the military feel. So we designed something new for Beverly Hills, that is a lot less like a military outfit.”
Despite not actually starting operations in Santa Monica until early October, Covered 6 has already been deployed in Beverly Hills for some time in an almost identical capacity and with considerable success.
The decor is Art Industrial, with lots of big, open spaces, polished metal and large, exposed air conditioning pipes. A giant wooden trellis framework supports the strip lights and fans, giving the interior a modern, practical aesthetic while retaining an air of appropriate tastefulness. There are quite a lot of pictures of people in action hanging on the walls and most of these show someone running about with an assault rifle, but Dunn says he’s in the process of changing that.
“It no longer really reflects who we are as a company,” he says. “I want to eventually get rid of all the guns in the branding, I mean, we’re getting significantly involved in search and rescue, for instance and this doesn’t accurately reflect everything we do anymore.”
Dunn is extremely proud of his company’s philosophy and methodology. He has realized that by applying some basic business principles to a situation that’s far from any typical commercial quandary, he can gain much greater insight into what’s required to solve the problem.
“What we’re doing here is much more than just Santa-Monica-is-a-client. A lot of cities are suffering from using the traditional models, I’d call them ‘the 90s models’ of policing, public safety, personal safety, corporate safety, security and so on. All these things are from this giant pot that nobody really knows what to do with, because traditional education and innovation are not keeping up with the demand,” Dunn says.
Surprisingly, both Dunn and Covered 6 COO, Mike Grant, said that they expect to come out of the Downtown Santa Monica contract with a loss, or possibly a best case scenario where they break even. “Oh, we’re all in,” laughs Grant. And this is a direct reflection of the confidence they have in the product they are offering. “We gave them [the City of Santa Monica] the lowest, most basic of models, since it’s a proof of concept as much as anything else,” Grant says.
“All we can do is try,” says Dunn. “And if you’re interviewing me in a year and we’ve failed, then it will be a different story. But I love to try, I want to try. I don’t believe in a no-win scenario and the reason is because we haven’t failed yet. Heck, maybe we’ve gone too far this time, but we won’t know until we try.”
The rest of the ground floor is taken up by a vast, aircraft hanger-sized indoor training area that includes a full-size replicated street, complete with a fully functioning pub, apartments and even a teeny-tiny nightclub, where fundamentals like restraint in a crowded environment are taught. There’s a well-equipped gym and a large matted area where unarmed arts including judo, jiu-jitsu, karate and krav maga are practiced and perfected.
“Most police forces and federal agencies have something like this simulated environment. We bring in actors and extras and we can recreate any scenario that we think we might have to deal with,” Dunn says, adding, “But no security company is doing this. So how do you expect to be able to deal with these challenges with no exposure to them?”
Dunn says other security companies are even asking if they can use the training facilities. In 2018, Covered 6 was awarded the first National Program Standard for both physical security specialist and cyber security technician training by the US Department of Labor and they have since developed an extensive teaching program for a number of different subjects that is attracting applicants from across the country.
If downstairs is where all the physical activity takes place, then upstairs is undoubtedly where the cognitive action happens. In a large, mostly open-plan layout are the desks of many Covered 6 employees, together with a few separate rooms used for teaching classes and an impressive standalone conference room, with glass, floor-to-ceiling walls, a glass and chrome boardroom table and a dozen, what look like Eames office chairs. These classics of design start at $2,870 each, however, a closer inspection revealed they were in fact imitations, albeit quality ones.
“What, you think I can afford real Eames chairs?” Dunn laughs. As we walk he explains how his company has been hired in the past by the likes of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX and he took inspiration from how those organizations had designed their client-facing spaces. “I wanted something that was modern, clean, stylish and memorable,” Dunn says, adding, “But I have a much smaller budget to spend on things like that, I’d far rather reinvest that sort of money back into the company…” and he throws me a look that basically says “duh.”
Christopher Lee Dunn, 56, is one of six children who grew up mostly in a camper that would slowly saunter around northern California. His mother was Japanese and was born in a relocation camp and his father is from Indiana. He’s a self-confessed fly-fishing fanatic and after reading his list of achievements, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that his calling was very much being on the street side of law enforcement.
Unlike many of his employees, Dunn doesn’t come from a traditional infantry background, instead he served as a Military Police investigator based at Fort Rucker, Alabama, before joining the LAPD as a detective. During his 14 years there, he worked patrol, undercover narcotics, Special Problems Unit and Special Weapons And Tactics, among others. In 1998 Dunn received the LAPD Medal of Valor for attempting to rescue an injured colleague and just one year later President Clinton awarded him the National Association of Police Organization’s “Top Cop” award for exceptional valor.
Yet, he’s clearly found his second calling: that of an innovative entrepreneur, successful businessman and extremely convincing marketing professional. His passion for what he does is obvious and his enthusiasm is infectious.
He quietly opens a door to show me a class in progress and whispers to me about how he’d been approached regarding a young man being held in juvenile detention. He had no prior convictions, but was facing charges simply because he’d retaliated against bullies who were persecuting him about his weight and the fact that he was a bit of a computer nerd. Dunn beamed with pride when he told me that young man was now a senior member of Covered 6’s cybersecurity team.
All of this raises some very interesting existential questions about the future of law enforcement and society in general. Just about everything else has been privatized, is the law enforcement industry next? Does a dollar have to be waved in front of everything in order to get anything done? Oh, wait, yes. We’ve seen this scenario play out in any number of novels and movies set in the near future, where perhaps a struggling local police department partners with an all-powerful corporation. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched and perhaps we’re getting a glimpse right now of how society might change.
“Corporations need profit, and they need to be competitive. Do police departments need to be competitive? Less so. Do security companies need to be competitive? Well, yes, because they have to get bids. So competition means innovation,” Dunn says.
Regardless of whether you think approaching this problem in a business-like fashion is a good idea or a bad idea, it can’t hurt to try. And while almost every fictional prophecy has this scenario ending badly in one way or another, after spending time with Dunn and getting to see first hand how his company thinks and operates, for the time being at least, I feel confident that we’re in safe hands.
At the time of going to press, what is hoped will be the final version of the Covered 6 contract was still with the City of Santa Monica awaiting final approval. As soon as that happens, an official start date will be determined.