Letter from City Manager Rick Cole on Crime

March 12, 2018
by Rick Cole

Letter from City Manager Rick Cole on Crime

Crime and the fear of crime . . .

Both are up in Santa Monica.  Both are serious.  It’s important that we separate them – and important that we recognize their connection.  And it’s important that we take action to deal with both of them.

By historic standards, Santa Monica remains a safe community.  The rise in crime over the past two years still leaves us below the numbers of crimes that happened in Santa Monica every year in the era from 1965-2000 – and less than half the peak crime rate in 1993.

What’s disturbing, however, are two trends that 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 – a home invasion robbery where two residents were brutally stabbed last May; 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; the murder of an elderly man in his home at the beginning of this year; the attempted rape of a woman in her bed by an intruder with a kitchen knife that she fought off last week; and the attempted jewelry store robbery last week that ended with a manhunt that convulsed the nearby neighborhood.

The increase in overall crime is more complicated.  Thefts and robberies are up.  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.  Faced with alarming crime rates forty years ago, California embarked on a massive crackdown that exploded our prison population and fueled racial tensions.  As crime came down (experts still debate the reasons for both the rise and decline), public opinion shifted away from militarized policing and mass incarceration.  New laws and voter initiatives reclassified crimes to reduce the number of people being charged with felonies and sent to prison.  And as with the prior crackdown, these reforms have brought unanticipated consequences and divisive debate about what to do about them. 

But while there is a bigger context, we have responsibility for safeguarding the safety and security of the people who live, work and visit our 8.3 square miles.  There can be no excuses or complacency in shirking our most basic duty: protecting our community from violence and crime.

That’s why Chief Ken Semko is speaking out on behalf of the entire team of the Santa Monica Police Department to tell the community we are committed to tackle the twin challenges of reducing crime and the fear of crime in our homes, streets, neighborhoods and business districts.  He’s outlining the steps that SMPD has taken and will be taking:  “These changes include an increase in visibility of uniformed personnel as well as newly instituted operational procedures giving our management and supervisory staff additional resources to immediately address the areas of the city most impacted by crime.”

Chief Semko is also emphasizing that this is not a challenge for the Police alone.  Santa Monica has long taken a comprehensive approach to crime prevention.  We believe that it begins with our youth and extends to our most elderly community members.  Our approach has worked and brought peace and peace of mind to parts of our city that were once killing grounds.  We also believe in 21st Century Policing, partnering with our community to work together on crime and the causes of crime.  That can’t stop – we need to be even more committed to long-term, effective strategies that not only make our community safer, but more equitable and humane.

Shortly I will be announcing a new Police Chief to lead these efforts in the years ahead.  It has been an exhaustive process to find a unique law enforcement leader to lead the Santa Monica Police Department, which has a well-earned reputation as “the benchmark of excellence.”  In the job bulletin we outlined the top-flight skills and extensive experience we were seeking.  We also listed the personal character and qualities we were seeking in a chief, including a passion for:

  • Fighting crime and social disorder.
  • Creating a 21st Century policing agency.
  • Embracing diversity and pursuing equity and inclusion.
  • Nurturing community identity, pride, and civic engagement.
  • Building collaborative civic partnerships among public, private, and non-profit stakeholders.
  • Being a role model for public service, continuous learning, and mentoring future leaders.

I believe we’ve identified a leader who exemplifies those qualities.  I look forward to making the introduction soon.  We are a strong community.  We are a safe community.  And as Chief Semko has emphasized today: “We understand and share community concerns about crime.  We will not rest until they are resolved; however, we can’t do this alone. Your partnership is essential to help us provide you with the safety and security that you deserve as a member of this great community. We are your Police Department and we are here to serve you.”

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