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Interim Police Chief Says Major Crimes in Santa Monica Up but Low by Historic Standards


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By Niki Cervantes
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March 9, 2018 -- With a string of violent crimes stoking community fear, Santa Monica Interim Police Chief Kenneth Semko on Thursday said major crime had risen 6 percent in the first two months of 2018, adding that police have been re-deployed to provide “an immediate” impact on both crime and the community’s “perception of safety.”

The 5.8 percent increase in crime in January and February is roughly equal to “one additional crime a day over last year,” when serious crime jumped 12.5 percent, Semko said in a message to the community posted on the City’s website.

“Troubling as these trends are to all of us in the Police Department, the number of annual crimes in Santa Monica remain well below historic rates of crime from 1965-2000,” he said.

“This past week the Police Department implemented several changes in the deployment of field sworn and civilian staff to provide an immediate impact on crime and improve the perception of safety throughout our community,” he said.

“These changes include an increase in visibility of uniformed personnel as well as newly instituted operational protocols giving our management and supervisory staff additional resources to immediately address the areas of the city most impacted by crime,” the message said.

Perception of the effectiveness of Santa Monica’s police took a hit last week, after a jewelry store robber escaped a manhunt through the North of Montana Avenue neighborhood ("Suspect Remains at Large after Robbing Montana Avenue Jewelry Store," March 1, 2018).

Although police subsequently named Robert Art Abalov, 32, as a suspect, he remained at large on Thursday ("Santa Monica Police Identify Suspect in Jewelry Store Robbery," March 2, 2018).

The February 28 robbery of Curate Los Angeles was unsuccessful, but residents in NOMA reported sightings of him, tearing through backyards and hopping fences.

They also took to social media to complain officers were unreceptive to their information ("Neighbors Take to Online Sites as Manhunt for Suspect in Santa Monica Robbery Unfolds," March 2, 2018).

Since the incident, the City has sought to assure the public that Santa Monica is still a safe community and that the police force is responding appropriately.

City Manager Rick Cole tweeted Wednesday he would announce a permanent replacement soon for Jacqueline Seabrooks, who retired in September ("New Police Chief for Santa Monica to be Announced 'Shortly,' City Manager Says," March 8, 2018).

He addressed the crime issue Tuesday in his weekly online message to the City Council and City staff.

Two disturbing trends, he said, “show no sign of abating: a string of high-profile frightening and violent crimes -- as well as a steady increase in overall crime.”

“The high-profile crimes make television news," he wrote and listed the following incidents:

* "a home invasion robbery where two residents were brutally stabbed last May ("Suspects Charged in Two Brutal Home Invasion Robberies in Santa Monica," May 31, 2017),

* "the brawl between a security guard and two men inside a McDonalds last July;

* "the shooting down of a homeless man on Main Street last August ("Suspect, Victim in Santa Monica Shooting May Have Been Homeless, Police Say," August 7, 2017)),

* "the murder of an elderly man in his home at the beginning of this year ("LA Man Charged with Murder of Santa Monica Senior," February 27, 2018).

* "the attempted rape of a woman in her bed by an intruder with a kitchen knife that she fought off last week ("Santa Monica Police Arrest Suspect in Violent Home Invasion Robbery," February 27, 2018) and

* "the attempted jewelry store robbery last week that ended with a manhunt that convulsed the nearby neighborhood.”

But, Cole said, the rise in overall crime is more complicated ("Santa Monica Number One in Property Crime Among California Cities of Similar Size," October 30, 2017).

“Thefts and robberies are up,” he said. “These can be frightening -- imagine a stranger grabbing your iPhone out of your hands or ripping off a valuable chain from your neck! Even more chilling is a large rise in ‘aggravated assaults.’

“These cover a range of violent actions against people. The biggest factor in this is an increasingly pitiless struggle over property and drugs among those living on our streets where vulnerable homeless people are often the victims.

“As with most deep-seated social issues, we are not alone in Santa Monica and there are no simple, easy, cheap answers -- although people always look for them.”

Cole’s message sought to provide historical prospective.

He noted the "massive crackdown on crime 40 years ago that "exploded our prison system and fueled racial tensions" and "new laws and voter initiatives (that)reclassified crimes to reduce the number of people being charged with felonies and sent to prison."

“But while there is a bigger context," Cole wrote, "(T)here can be no excuses or complacency in shirking our most basic duty: protecting our community from violence and crime.”

How effective the effort to calm fears has been, at least so far, is open to question.

Representatives of the force meet routinely with the city’s many neighborhood associations -- which include some City Hall’s sternest critics.

One such meeting Monday with Northeast Neighbors was “mutually respectful” according to an email to Northeast’s members by Tricia Crane, one of its leaders.

But Crane said reaction from those who attended nonetheless revealed nervousness.

Among reactions, she said in a follow-up email:

“What I took away from the meeting is that the SMPD has failed miserably in doing their job, i.e. protecting us," one email said.

"Furthermore, I understood that they do not hire more police officers but cover the gap with overtime. So, my logical conclusion is that we now have more crime, but very well-paid police officers ("Audit Report Finds High Santa Monica Police Cost, Low Clearance Rate," January 23, 2018).

And another emailed comment said:

“I would grade their response as F. It’s irrelevant if they catch the suspect or not. Criminals now know that robberies in Santa Monica do pay off.”


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