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Is Crime Really Down? Council Challengers Weigh In

Bob Kronovetrealty
We Love Property Management Headaches!

Santa Monica

Santa Monica Apartments

Santa Monica College
1900 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 434-4000


By Lookout Staff

October 21, 2020 -- Last year, Santa Monica experienced the steepest drop in serious crime in at least a decade ("Reports of Serious Crime Dropped in Santa Monica Last Year," October 20, 2020).

Yet, half of the local voters who responded to a recent poll said they felt less safe than they did two years ago ("Poll Shows Lack of Support for Council Incumbents," October 2, 2020).

The Lookout asked the four members of a slate of challengers to explain the reasons for this discrepancy.

Phil Brock

With numerous reports of petty crimes every day, our residents are on guard, and rightly so. The FBI statistics do not reflect new California laws that prevent many of the formerly reported arrests that have become mere citations or non-reports for SMPD.

Residents are tired of being told to come to the public safety building to report a crime or told that "yes, you have told us that there are fingerprints on the car that just got broken into but we have nobody to send out there for the next two days" (my building).

It is not only major crimes that make us feel unsafe. It is the bike thefts, catalytic converters cut from cars, and the random assaults on our streets that we are subjected to.

All of these combine to make us feel jittery. Add to that the breakdown of law and order on May 31st and we can all see why residents feel that our city's reported crime statistics are a mirage.

A former Santa Monica Police Chief declared that it is the job of the Police Chief and city officials to give us the perception that we are safe in our houses and our streets. Our Police Chief, City Manager, and City Council have failed, miserably.

We see anti-social, disruptive behavior on every street in our city and usually find no police on the streets to disrupt crime. Last Saturday evening, I had dinner at The Galley. While dining there, a man walked on the inside the Galley's Parklet, grabbed a diner's bike, and started to walk away.

The customer jumped up to grab his bike and I jumped in front of the thief. We recovered the bike and the want-to-be thief walked south on Main. I didn't feel that SMPD would do anything since we recovered the bike.

Later, a woman was assaulted on Main and SMPD did respond, merely talked to the "perp" and then drove away. While at the Galley, I spoke to the owner who said he is now a restaurant owner and a bouncer because of the daily threats outside his legendary establishment.

People are fearful and it is justified. The purported decrease in crime would pencil out to an aggregate 14% increase since 2015. That is still an incredible increase and a reason why Santa Monica is in the bottom tier of safe cities in our state. In fact, we rank below San Francisco and just above Oakland.

Our residents do not deserve to live this way. We must make public safety a priority!

Oscar de la Torre

Taxpayers should expect the government to carry out its most important public function: helping to keep us safe in our community. The current members of Santa Monica City Council have failed the residents of our City.

Under their watch crime continues to go up (many of these crimes go unreported, which is why FBI data and reality on our streets is contradictory) and homelessness and vagrancy are increasing.

It is disturbing to see the lawlessness and lack of law enforcement on our streets. People are openly using drugs and defecating in public, quickly turning our City into an unhealthy environment for all residents.

The public safety problems we face are complex and require a shift in our thinking. We must employ a “compassionate accountability” approach by prioritizing services and support for people experiencing mental illness, people with substance abuse addictions and people that experience homelessness, but we must also hold everyone, including our elected officials, City staff and grantees accountable.

Accountability is not only for those who are mired in the social conditions we want to change but also for the City officials who have enabled the problems by failing to ensure that public dollars go to social services rather than administrative salaries. This has created an unsafe environment for Santa Monica residents.

Our City is seen as a progressive beacon in California, but the fact is we have lost our way. Our elected officials would rather tell you how great everything is than face the truth and make a radical shift in the way we address public safety.

Mario Fonda-Bonardi

It’s clear that the resident perceptions are completely aligned with the reality as reported in the FBI statistics. When the crime statistics are lined up, they totally agree with the resident’s accurate crime perceptions.

The fact that there has been a 16% drop from 2018 to 2019 is mostly irrelevant, as the 2019 rates are still the third highest ever recorded since 2005. Using the “reduced” 2019 data, violent crime is still up 96% from 2014!

From a lived resident experience, this historically high rate across all areas of crime, violent and property, combined with the daily safety concerns in parks and downtown add up to a significantly deteriorated public safety reality for the residents.

Moreover, the absolute silence of the Council during all these years has left the residents feeling isolated and increasingly stressed at the absence of alternatives or actions.

While population, tourism and available officers have essentially flat-lined, crime and homelessness has gone up between 27% and 136% in the 4 years prior to 2018. These are real, measurable and resident-experienced increases.

Even though the sworn officer count has increased 5% (11 officers) from 2014 to 2019, overall crime has increased 37% and violent crime 96%. So there is much more crime to be covered by an essentially manpower-static police force. The residents see that police are less available when they need them. May 31st totally demonstrated that, but it clearly had started much earlier.

Now that we are reinstating a new chief -- who’s last term in Santa Monica from June 2012 to April 2018 coincided with a period of historic peak crime increases -- you have to ask whether this is a police issue or if it is a Council priority/agenda setting and leadership issue. I tend to think it is firmly the latter.

Residents go to their parks and beaches and see the drug deals, the bike thievery, the antisocial behavior etc. and don’t remember it being so bad. To be clear, while I do not equate homelessness with crime, the lived resident experience is that we have retreated from our parks and beaches so very few people feel safe in our parks today.

They hear with their own ears stories on social media (Next Door etc.) of someone they know who has been robbed, broken into, mugged or worse. Finally they see the night prowlers on their front porch cameras and watch the porch pirates walk off with their deliveries.

In short the City is objectively under siege and the residents clearly experience this. It’s not a problem of perception, it is a lived reality. They also feel the police and the justice system have completely failed to respond. How can they respond with no direction from the Council or any improvement plan at all?

Finally the residents (tenants, owners, business operators) know that the City Council has failed to react to this unacceptable crime increase in the last 6 years.

In fact, the City’s denial about crime, likely to protect the tourist industry’s image, means the residents live in this Kafkaesque world where there is palpable and justified fear in the streets while they repeatedly hear from the Council that everything is fine and crime has gone down.

This public dishonesty coupled with an indifference to the victims has created a huge credibility gap between the City and its residents and businesses. The reason we are even discussing this is that it's election season.

Christine Parra

It is ironic that you pose this question now as I just finished listening to a podcast of Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day and was particularly interested in their comments about public safety.

On several candidate forums where the incumbents and challengers (Brock, Fonda-Bonardi, de La Torre and myself) have had an opportunity to speak about public safety in our community, the incumbents continually tout how crime decreased in 2019 even though we all know, it has not.

And today, while listening to the podcasts, I realized why the crime stats were down in 2019. It is because of state law initiatives (like prop 47) that now charge what used to be misdemeanors as infractions and what used to be felonies as misdemeanors.

In Gleam’s words, “If someone is involved in the public use of illegal drugs, that is an infraction.” Police must see the illegal activity themselves in order to write a ticket for an infraction.

She further indicated that it wasn’t feasible to do this because you would need to have a police officer on every corner. “If you want a police officer to arrest someone for a minor infraction," she said, "they can do it but that person will be out of the jail before the police officer is done writing the report.”

What this tells me is that crime is not down, it is just not being prosecuted or cited as done previously when our police officers were not as restricted by state law.

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