To combat an increase in the number of cars that have been broken into while parked inside Downtown Santa Monica Parking Structures, the Santa Monica Police Department has hired a private security company to provide an extra set of eyes and ears in the structures.
The year-long, $160,000 contract is with Allied Security, which currently patrols Parking Structures 7 and 8, which are privately managed by Santa Monica Place mall.
The program kicks off in March and will include two private security guards patrolling the structures on Second and Fourth streets during various times and days of the week. The SMPD will use data to better inform the deployment strategy.
"We have certain areas we know are hot spots," said Lt. Saul Rodriguez, public information officer with the SMPD. "We hope this added visibility provides a deterrent."
The security guards will be using motorized carts to zip from one structure to the next and will be charged with reporting to SMPD any suspicious activity.
Santa Monica witnessed an 8.8 percent increase in serious crimes in 2018, including thefts, burglaries and aggravated assaults. Property crimes and thefts drove much of the increase last year, as they did in 2017 and 2016.
There were 119 more vehicle burglaries in 2018, and police Chief Cynthia Renaud said in a YouTube address to the city that it was common for perpetrators to smash car windows to steal electronics, bags and jewelry left in plain sight. Thieves are also targeting those items in public spaces.
"I preach this constantly, but I'll take a moment to say it again now: please do not leave valuables in your cars, lock your homes when you leave and be diligent and aware of your purses, your backpacks and your bicycles when you're out and about," Renaud said.
Renaud said the department has hired 20 new officers after operating with a shortage for several years as veteran officers retired. SMPD has the budget for 235 officers but only employed 215 as of January 2018.
Lt. Rodriguez said a renewed focus on crime, along with more personnel, has resulted in the reduction of crime by 12.1 percent in the first two months of 2019, a promising sign of things to come.
He reminded visitors to the downtown to remain vigilant and echoed the chief's comments regarding never leaving valuables in plain sight. If you are shopping and want to leave purchases in your car, make sure no one is around before placing them in a locked trunk. Rental cars are frequent targets as tourists may be more apt to leave valuables in their cars, including luggage. It only takes a few seconds for a criminal to smash a window and run off with a bag, laptop or camera.
"And remember, if you see something suspicious, call us," Rodriguez said.
Add the SMPD dispatch number to your list of contacts on your cell phone so that you can report anything out of the ordinary. It is 310.458.8491.