By Hector Gonzalez
February 24, 2015--Last year was “a very successful year for the Santa Monica Police Department” as major crimes including murders, rapes and assaults fell by more than 13 percent in the City, down to their lowest levels in decades, a Santa Monica police official said.
“We ended up with a reduction of 13.1 percent, which is one of the lowest in decades, going back to, I think, the late 1950s or early ‘60s,” Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt. Rudy Camarena said Monday.
Overall, the most egregious categories of crimes decreased from 3,870 incidents reported in 2013 to 3,363 in 2014, according to statistics released by the Police Department. Called “Part One” crimes, the categories include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and grand theft auto.
No murders occurred in Santa Monica last year, local crime statistics showed.
In sharp contrast, the City recorded seven homicides in 2013, all of them occurring in June that year. They included five people who were killed June 7 by lone gunman John Zawarhi, 23, in a shooting rampage that ended at Santa Monica College. Zawarhi was shot and killed by police.
Another victim was shot dead in a gang-related murder on June 9, 2013, and a man was killed a week later in a road rage shooting about a half-mile from Santa Monica College, (“Santa Monica Gang-related Shooting Suspect Convicted,” September 18, 2014).
In 2012, the City recorded two homicides, police figures show.
That year, Camarena noted, Jacqueline Seabrooks took over as chief of the Santa Monica Police Department and immediately launched a top-to-bottom review of department policies and practices, resulting in improvements in how the department deploys its officers.
“A significant component of the decline can be attributed to the changes in the department since Seabrooks became chief,” he said.
Along with homicides, robberies in the City fell in 2014--from the 125 in 2013 to 120 last year. It was the lowest number of robberies in the City since 1963, when 117 were reported, police statistics showed. Robbery reports have continually decreased since 2012, when 219 occurred in Santa Monica, the numbers show.
The number of rapes reported in the City stayed the same in 2014 as the year before -- 29 were reported in both 2013 and 2014, statistics showed.
But assaults, which had declined 21 percent in 2013 from the year before, rose slightly last year, the numbers show. There were 188 aggravated assaults reported in 2014, compared to 173 in 2013.
Burglaries decreased last year, from 579 reported in 2013 to 535 last year. Burglaries have been on a downward trend since 2012, when 586 were reported.
Police also said they received 177 grand theft auto reports in 2014, up from 164 in 2013. But reports in 2014 of larceny—theft not involving break-ins or physical threats—declined significantly, from 2,793 in 2013 to 2,314 last year, police figures show.
Overall, Part One crime has declined markedly since 1993, when Santa Monica recorded the highest number of serious crimes ever—10,891 incidents.
In 2012, the real estate website Movoto.com ranked Santa Monica among the 25 “Most Dangerous Suburbs in America.”
Since then, a reorganization of the department implemented by Seabrooks has resulted in new deployment strategies that have put more uniformed officers on the streets, Camarena said.
In one major change, the department hired more civilian managers to take over administrative duties formerly assigned to police officers, freeing those officers to work in the field, he said.
“That was one of the key components of the reorganization,” said Camarena.
As chief, Seabrooks also “reached out to the Sheriff’s Department” to provide deputies—on a contract basis—to augment Santa Monica police at special events like the Twilight Concert Series at Santa Monica Park.
“At that event, we would have officers working overtime, and what we found was that the deployment was inadequate. The chief contracted with the Sheriff’s Department to supplement our officers as needed,” said Camarena.
Having the flexibility to add deputies to augment Santa Monica officers at special events and during emergency situations “has become very important in this age of connectivity,” Camarena said, when large gatherings of people organized over the Internet can happen “at a moment’s notice.”
Also, detectives working major cases now have the help of a Sheriff’s Department’s crime lab criminologist who works under contract for the SMPD, one of only a handful of police agencies in Los Angeles County to have such an arrangement, he said.
“Before when we had a major crime and we would submit our evidence to the sheriff’s crime lab, we competed with other agencies. We were in a cue, and we would have to wait for the results to come back. In the past it sometimes took anywhere from three to six months to get the results back,” said Camarena. “Now, we’re able to submit our evidence for processing directly to this person.”
Evidence submitted to the criminologist can now be processed and returned to the SMPD in six to seven weeks, he said.
The reduction in lag time has allowed the department to put repeat offenders behind bars. Camarena cited a recent case involving a serial burglar. The detective working the case found evidence of a pattern pointing to a particular suspect, who police later arrested.
At the same time, investigators “submitted the evidence we had to our criminologist, and within three weeks we received confirmation that this was our suspect,” he said.
“Because we have a designated criminologist assigned to us on a contractual basis, we were able to rush it through, present the case to the DA, and now this guy is no longer out there still committing crimes,” said Camarena. “We’re talking about a career criminal with several prior strikes.”
Seabrooks also implemented weekly meetings with her command staff to discuss crime patterns and deployment strategies, and ordered captains in charge of patrols to also meet once a week.
And the department has focused in recent years on crime awareness, reminding residents to avoid leaving valuables in plain sight inside their cars, for example, and publicizing other crime prevention tips, he said.
“All of these things have contributed to a significant reduction in crime in Santa Monica,” said Camarena.