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The Face of Policing

By Jorge Casuso

September 18 -- Inside his office in the police substation Downtown, Sgt. Rudy Camarena sits behind a computer with three red spots glaring on the screen.

They form a row along the bottom of a map of Santa Monica – the biggest covering the Downtown, then a smaller one on Main Street and further along the strip, a final one at the Venice border.

The flares signify the crime hotspots in a beachside city of 80,000 that draws tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of visitor to work, shop and play every day.

“You see the pattern,” says Camarena, who is in charge of the substation on 2nd Street. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”

Just a click away is a detailed report of every crime whose corresponding dots combine to form the flares on the screen.

“We’re looking for trends on a daily basis,” says Camarena, who is completing his first month on the job. “We’re looking for patterns. Crime is time-sensitive.”

Camarena closes the browser and heads for the street, where the dots are not merely pixels, but real life incidents that might need to be immediately addressed by the 18-year veteran of the force or by one of the four police officers and ten community service officers who cover the beat around the clock.

In addition to Officer Jeffrey Glaser, Downtown’s Neighborhood Resource Officer (NRO), who directly answers to headquarters, three or four additional officers are added to the beat on Fridays and Saturdays, when crowds on the Third Street Promenade can swell to 10,000 an hour.

“Being seen, being accessible, being available,” Camarena says, are the keys to the success of the city’s new neighborhood policing model, which deploys the same officers to a designated beat so they can build trusting relationships with those they serve.

“We need to be highly visible and proactive,” he says, as he walks the Promenade, waving to new acquaintances and popping into stores to touch base. “We’re there. We’re aware of what’s going on.”

For Camarena, a Puerto Rican native who attended Samohi, community relations was the most recent step on the career ladder he has been climbing since 1990 – from patrol officer to member of the narcotics vice squad and criminal investigator.

Fluent in Spanish, Camarena still serves as the department’s liaison with Spanish-language media. But public relations is now a full-time job, whether he’s fielding calls from a merchant or walking the Downtown streets.

“We’re out there on a daily basis,” Camarena says. “We put a face to a name.”


"You see the pattern. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.” Rudy Camarena


"Crime is time-sensitive.”


“We need to be highly visible and proactive.”


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