By David White, Ramon Batista
As your City Manager and Police Chief, we would like to address the recent local and regional news coverage of a report portraying Santa Monica as unsafe ("Santa Monica Among State's Least Safe Cities, Report Finds," March 24, 2022).
These messages are difficult to listen to because both of us love working, leading and living in this amazing community. Our primary focus is to collaborate with our City Council, community, and leadership team, to improve the quality of life for our residents and businesses.
Right off the top, we want to be clear that you are heard. As both the Chief of Police and City Manager, we have taken the time to meet and talk to residents, business owners, leaders in the faith-based community, employees, property owners, and visitors. We have heard loud and clear your concerns over public safety in our city. We take each and every one of these interactions seriously.
Together, we are working to provide the best service possible to our community. Below are recent steps the City and Santa Monica Police Department are taking to keep Santa Monica safe.
- It will likely come as no surprise to many that we are suffering from a labor shortage, as are employers across the country. This shortage impacts operations and services throughout the City. The reality is that vacancy levels in the Police Department are at historic levels. This is frustrating for members of our Police Department that are working hard, day in and day out to keep the community safe and respond to calls for service. To address the demands placed on our staff and to ensure a strong response to 9-1-1 calls-for-service, the Police Chief has reassigned employees from other important assignments to ensure that our Patrol Operations Division has the resources to respond to 9-1-1 calls for service. Unfortunately, this will come at a cost in the short term, but it is a critical action to fight crime.
- The Police Department has piloted and deployed new technologies. Specifically, the Department has placed mobile surveillance cameras to address areas in the community where their experience and data indicate this technology will help deter crime. The Department has also piloted a Drone as a First Responder (DFR) program that has been used by staff as a force multiplier to address routine and high-risk calls. The UAS (drone) has had tremendous success, often arriving on-scene merely minutes after the emergency call is placed and simultaneously establishing communication with the person calling 911.
- The City is partnering with Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to deploy a therapeutic van to respond to 9-1-1 calls for service involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Once fully staffed, this service will operate 24 hours a day / seven days a week. We are working to make this resource available as soon as it can be staffed. Funding this program means that a DMH team will be available 24/7 to address non-violent, mental health-related calls for service. This resource expands our ability to meet the specific needs of those in a mental health crisis in real-time.
- Last year, the Santa Monica Fire Department launched a brand-new type of emergency resource, the Community Response Unit (CRU). The CRU works to help bridge the gap between housing and other support services while keeping Paramedics, Firefighters, and emergency room resources available for higher acute care services. The CRU looks like a typical ambulance staffed by two Firefighters, yet it has a distinct mission: to provide an alternative response to 9-1-1 calls to better address the needs of vulnerable populations in Santa Monica, including people experiencing homelessness.
- The Santa Monica Police Department is keenly focused on recruitment. The Police Department is an amazing place to work and consists of hardworking, dedicated, and thoughtful professionals. Building on this foundation, our Police Department is dedicating the resources to implement an aggressive recruitment campaign to bring the best to Santa Monica.
In addition to these actions, and working closely with the City Council, we are looking three to five years down the road to determine where we need to be. We are eager to grow and restore services and implement new ideas, as the City continues to recover from the devastating financial impacts of COVID.
As your City Manager and Police Chief, we look forward to engaging in conversation and listening and learning from your experiences to be well-positioned to support and protect this community as we move forward.