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Santa Monica Law Change Doesn’t Extend Physical Arrest Power to Civilians, Officials Say

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 28, 2015 -- Certain Santa Monica Police Department civilian employees have been granted the ability to make arrests, but these arrests cannot be physical, police officials told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

There was some chatter on social media questioning what it meant to expand arrest powers and whether it would be appropriate for non-sworn officers to have them.

At least one Third Street Promenade performer who addressed the council also had this concern, especially how it affected the City’s street performer ordinance.

The questions arose as the council voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve an amendment to the City code recommended by the Police Department that updated the definition of an “enforcement officer” to include more civilian positions.

Among the positions added was the public services officer (PSO), whose coverage area includes the Downtown.

An enforcement officer, according to the City code “may arrest a person whenever he or she has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a misdemeanor or infraction in his or her presence.”

Police Capt. Wendell Shirley told the council prior to the vote on the amendment that the arrests by the civilian employees cannot be physical, but rather they include the issuance of “administrative citations or notice of violations.”

He added, “Where a physical arrest is warranted, this will continue to be handled by a police officer.”

Santa Monica could not allow civilian employees to make physical arrests because State law governs how they can be made, Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks told the council.

She added that the civilian employees, as well as any person, could make what she called a “private person’s arrest.”

“But even [the private person’s arrests] are required to have a police officer on standby for the opportunity to assess whether the arrest meets certain lawful standards, and those standards of legality must fall within the Constitution,” Seabrooks said.

She told the council that civilian employees have recently received training from a regional police academy on the laws of arrest and constitutionality, “so that our civilian employee group would be fully aware of what their lawful obligations are.”

Among those concerned about what expanding the definition of “enforcement officer” could mean was former mayor Mike Feinstein, who wrote a letter to the council that he posted on social media.

Feinstein wrote that he had “deep concern” about the amendment, and asked that the decision on it be delayed because there was what he considered to be insufficient information in the accompanying staff report.

“Specifically, the staff report is lacking in analysis for the public to understand how this re-classifcation would change the ability of those employees to enforce the law (including carrying weapons), and how that might affect how they carry out their responsibilities,” Feinstein wrote.

The former mayor did not attend the meeting. Mayor Kevin McKeown asked the police chief to address the arrest issue, but did not say anything about the amendment. No other council member spoke on it before voting.

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