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OPINION -- Santa Monicans Deserve Answers on the Crime Crisis

September 18, 2018 -- Between 2010 and 2016, Santa Monicans have seen total crime jump by more than 23 percent. If City leaders won’t tackle the growing crime crisis head on, the question remains: who’s left to advocate for a safer Santa Monica?

By Luka Ladan and Charlyce Bozzello

When it comes to crime in California, there's good news and bad news.

The good news: Across the entire state, crime rates have dropped to historic lows. The bad news: Los Angeles County is trending in the opposite direction.

Last year, a study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that, from 2010 to 2016, the county's crime rate actually rose by five percent, even though California's overall crime rate dropped by five percent.

In Santa Monica, the story is even sadder. Between 2010 and 2016, Santa Monicans have seen total crime jump by more than 23 percent, with assault, burglary, and property crime all on the rise.

During that time, homicides jumped nearly 92 percent. In 2017, violent crime increased by another 50 percent from the year prior, bringing it to its highest level in two decades.

From a series of home invasions and attempted murder to recent shootings and slashings, the spike in criminal activity is difficult to ignore.

Yet persistent crime cannot be traced to inadequate spending on public safety. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the City of Santa Monica allotted well over $86 million to the Santa Monica Police Department (for comparison's sake, the average amount set aside among peer cities was $60 million).

That comes out to roughly $932 spent per resident -- far more than the average of $554 per resident in similar cities.

Was it money well spent? According to a recent external audit, Santa Monica only cleared 54 percent of its cases involving violent crime. The average for comparison cities surpassed 60 percent.

The crime spike -- and the city's inability to handle it -- correlates with Santa Monica's growing homeless population, which increased by 26 percent last year. The most recent count puts the number of homeless individuals at 957—up from 921 individuals in 2016.

This carries residual consequences: The Santa Monica Police Department admits that homeless individuals monopolize police resources, as situations involving a homeless person typically account for 30 percent of the department’s daily calls.

What do elected officials say in response? Evidently, not much.

Mayor Ted Winterer addressed the issue of homelessness briefly in a public letter this summer, but failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.

The mayor focused on the three percent drop in homelessness across Los Angeles County -- a rosier picture, but an inaccurate depiction of life in his own city. As for crime, he claimed: “Fighting crime and proactive community policing strategies will continue."

It begs the question: When did these strategies actually begin?

UNITE HERE Local 11, Santa Monica's most influential hotel union, has also remained mostly silent on crime. This is despite the fact that the livelihood of Local 11 members depends on the robust tourism economy that crime threatens.

The union's silence could be explained by its obsession to promote its own self-serving agenda. With City Council's help, Local 11's current focus is hotel “panic-buttons” and workplace scheduling requirements, which the union hopes will be mandated by government decree.

Similar measures have been proposed in Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes. Yet Local 11 insists on allowing an exemption from such mandates for unionized hotel workers, which calls into question the union's real motives behind supporting these policies.

If City leaders won’t tackle the growing crime crisis head on, the question remains: who’s left to advocate for a safer Santa Monica? Residents deserve to know.

Luka Ladan is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts. Charlyce Bozzello is the Center's research analyst.


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