Last evening, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously passed the Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM Inc.) budget. The budget includes a contract with Covered 6 Security for a one year program to add security, including at least one lethally armed security officer, to the 3rd Street Promenade. (Agenda, Video)
Despite the unanimous vote, the debate over the motion was often difficult to follow and contentions. The Councilmembers were loathe to outright say that the Downtown or Promenade are not safe but instead that the addition of armed security was about making people feel safe in the Downtown generally and Promenade in specific.
Councilmember Jesse Zwick, who voted for the proposal, tried three times to amend it to limit the weapons available to Covered 6 to non-lethal or less-lethal. Zwick’s proposed friendly amendments were rejected by Councilmember Oscar de la Torre who moved the staff recommendation. A third motion to ban lethally armed private security agents failed to get a second.
“I’m not comfortable with private security forces being armed. I’m not sure what circumstances we would want private citizens using their firearm on the Promenade,” Zwick argued. “Personally I’m more inclined to keep my family away from the Promenade should we move in this direction.”
However, both Councilmembers Phil Brock and Lana Negrete argued that the presence of armed guards, including one with a glock firearm and patrol vehicle, would make them feel safer in the Promenade.
“I have teenage daughters who go to the Promenade multiple times a week. This makes me feel more safe,” Negrete said.
“If they provide a feeling of safety, they will have succeeded.” Brock concluded.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, Covered 6 and leadership from DTSM Inc. painted a picture not of a security force that would be policing the Promenade but of a group of friendly professionals that would do everything from provide directions to making first contact with people experiencing homelessness to helping clean the area. They are also trained in de–escalation and self defense if needed.
Making it clear that the Covered 6 teams were not there to replace the police, Santa Monica City Manager David White stated clearly that, “This resource is not designed to change the way we deploy our police department.” 911 calls will never go to Covered 6, but only to city fire and police departments.
Foreshadowing the debate that followed, DTSM Inc. Board Chair Eric Sedman stated simply “We don’t have a safety issue, as much as we do a perception of safety.” From there he described the security guards as more closely resembling the experience that people used to have with beat cops that patrolled a certain area on-foot multiple times a week or even daily.
The budget will employ “8 to 11” Covered 6 security guards and supervisors, replacing 16 ambassador positions that existed in previous budgets. There will be a mix of ambassador and Covered 6 positions in the new budget. Ambassadors will be unarmed, covered 6 guards will be armed with mace, tasers and other non-lethal ordinance and one supervisor per shift will be armed with a licensed Glock firearm.
Zwick challenged DTSM Inc. Board Members and Covered 6 executives about the need to have one lethally armed security guard.
Andrew Thomas, the CEO of DTSM Inc. switched the question around. “I would ask what is the rationale for not arming the other individuals,” he responded. “Because there are challenges in our community they feel that at least the supervisor should be armed.” However, the SMPD itself felt uncomfortable with there being multiple lethally armed security guards on the Promenade.
Michael Grant, the Chief Operating Officer for Covered 6, testified that in a decade of offering private security, Covered 6 has had one incident where a gun was fired and zero use-of-force complaints filed against them. In the contract with Santa Monica, the lethally armed supervisors will all be former police officers.
Grant described the security they will provide as “Ambassadors to your city” and that the security guards will be looking to help people in the Promenade whether they are experiencing homelessness and need access to services or are a visitor looking for a certain store or restaurant.
Another point of contention between the Councilmembers was how to evaluate if the pilot program succeeds given the other resources being poured into public safety measures by the city and the already improving conditions in the Downtown and Promenade.
The percentage of vacant storefronts in the Promenade has been falling for the last two years to almost a quarter of storefronts. The budget DTSM Inc. proposed also includes more public events, and pop-up store fronts. Even an underutilized kiosk in the Promenade that clearly irked Brock will soon be rented out to popular YouTuber Odd Ones Out.
“It’s not talked about as public safety, but I think it’s going to increase public safety, “ said de la Torre of the improved programming in the Downtown area and Promenade.
Earlier in the evening the Council voted on ways to streamline the permit process for businesses in the downtown, eliminating the CUP process entirely. The city stated that it was hiring inspectors to reduce the permit process from one that literally can last months to one that can be done in a matter of days.