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Santa Monica Police Chief Discusses the Issues  

By Ann K. Williams

The Lookout is conducting a series of interviews to find out what city staff and officials expect in 2011. Last week, we sat down with Santa Monica Police Chief Timothy Jackman who told us what his department has on its plate.

January 19, 2011 -- Chief Timothy Jackman has a high-tech map of Santa Monica in his office next to a picture window overlooking the beach.

The city grid shows lights – these are police cars, and they move on the map as his officers' cars move in real-time on their way to calls which are shown as numbers on the board.

Jackman knows where his men are, what they're doing and what crimes are being committed as they happen throughout the city.

But there's more to being an effective police chief than simply dealing with crime as it happens. Outreach, public education and prevention eat up a lion's share of the Chief's busy day.

And from the homeless to gang violence to traffic and more, he's prepared to handle it all.

Jackman is grateful.

“We have enough resources to do policing the way it should be done,” the former deputy police chief from Long Beach said.

Santa Monica gives him “the luxury of time” to solve problems with “care and consideration,” Jackman said. Before coming here, “I didn't know there was a place like that.”

Three problems top Jackman's list of most pressing in 2011.

The homeless are at the top because of their “tremendous impact” in term of “cost and victimization,” he said.

“They do a lot of things that annoy people and we get called whether its a crime or not,” Jackman said.

But he's not interested in just writing tickets for “quality of life” offenses. He wants to help Santa Monica's citizens on the streets.

The Police Department's Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) Unit has grown to seven members, plus a clinician from the County Department of Mental Health who goes on calls with officers to help talk to homeless people and steer them to the services they need, Jackman said.

And the department has contracted with West Coast Care, a group of social workers who go out on the streets to get to know the homeless.

Jackman jokes that the service has grown to a point where they're thinking of opening an office and he's told them he doesn't want them to, he wants them all to stay on the streets.

That's where they befriend the homeless and find out what they need. If an individual has a job, they give him bus fare to get to it. If they find out where his family lives, they give him bus fare home.

Unlike similar programs tried elsewhere in the past, West Coast Care's workers don't just say goodbye once a homeless person steps onto a bus. They follow up for months, making sure that their charge is still safe at home.

Jackman calls this “the most affordable way, the most humane way to end homelessness.”

Last year, the city's homeless problem got better, he said. Just as homelessness has “myriad causes,” he thinks the many solutions that are being tried in Santa Monica seem to have made a real difference.

Jackman credits City Councilmember Shriver for getting the Veterans Administration (VA) to do its share in caring for the city's homeless veterans.

Shriver marshaled political pressure from as high up as the Federal government to get the VA Hospital in Westwood to turn one of its unused buildings into therapeutic housing for homeless veterans last year.

And Councilmember Richard Bloom deserves praise for his support for programs helping people on the street and for getting homelessness recognized as a regional problem, Jackman said.

Likewise, he lauded the city's Community and Cultural Services Department for its “compassionate and thoughtful...outside the box solutions.”

Gang violence and youth crime placed second on Jackman's list.

“The police are typically in the response mode,” when it comes to gang crimes, “though as peace officers we try to keep the peace,” he said.

To do that, the department works closely with youth – with the Boys and Girls Club, the school district, the Pico Youth and Family Center, and, of course, the Police Athletic League for local children.

But Jackman has gone farther in his analysis. Youth violence has its roots in the home, he says.

As a member of the Westside Domestic Violence Network, Jackman's department is at the forefront of a battle against violence in the home, violence that both hurts children and, sadly, serves as a model for their future behavior.

“Violence at its roots comes from the same source,” said Jackman, “a male source.”

“Domestic violence is seen as a women's problem when it's the men that cause it,” he added.

So peace officers are being trained to understand this brand of violence and they in turn train youth leaders.

Anyone using city sports fields is in line for the training, since, Jackman pointed out, sports tend to bring out anger in young men.

Police efforts seem to be working.

Gang violence is down and “we haven't had a gang crime we haven't solved in the last few years,” Jackman said.

He attributes some of the improvement to “regional impact,” – federal agencies now take out entire gangs, he said – and to stiffer penalties that keep young offenders in jail during the years when they're most likely to commit violent crimes.

Finally, “the unsolvable issue” as Jackman puts it – traffic.

“Poor (traffic) circulation leads to people doing really stupid things, most of which are illegal,” he said.

And everyone blames everyone else, he said. If he goes to a meeting of people who drive, they blame the pedestrians and bicyclists for getting in their way. And bike riders blame the drivers, while pedestrians blame the rest.

There's no easy answer, Jackman said. “It's the individual's responsibility to be careful.”

But it's still up to the police department “to keep some order in all the chaos.”

Officers have a duty to educate bicyclists that they're subject to the same laws as drivers, and pedestrians that they have to look up when they're in a crosswalk.

And it's up to the department to “enforce, educate and advocate for alternative forms of transportation.”

Apart from those three problems, crime in Santa Monica falls into two categories, Jackman said, – crimes against people and crimes against the things people own.

While crimes against people tend to draw attention, there are far fewer of them here than property crimes, he said.

There was one murder last year, which in a city of this size is remarkably low, he said.

Among property crimes, the “big ones” in Santa Monica are shoplifting and bicycle theft, while burglary is “incredibly low,” said Jackman.

Car break-ins happen in clusters, he added. Typically, since they're crimes that can be completed quickly, criminals will break into ten or even twenty cars within a block or two in one night. The police work in a task force to combat them, and have been “extraordinarily successful,” he said.

Jackman finished up with some reflections on his years leading up to his post as Santa Monica's top officer.

His work as a “street cop” – he worked on Patrol in Long Beach for 12 years – gave him a strong faith in people and a firm belief in the value of community policing.

Officers learn more by talking to the people they serve than from any bureaucratic reports, he said.

“I don't care what neighborhood it is,” Jackman said – and he's seen all kinds, he added. “The vast majority are good people.”

“I believe that the government really is of the people, by the people and for the people, and you find that out when you talk to Joe Public.”

 

“We have enough resources to do policing the way it should be done.”

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