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OPINION -- Will The City Council Get Serious About Crime?

By Jon Neeter

November 5, 2018 -- As a resident and business owner in Santa Monica for the past decade, I've seen significant changes in the level of crime in the city.

I know that change is inevitable in cities, as in life; still, it’s discouraging to witness what was once a pleasant, amiable small city evolve into a breeding ground for criminal activity.

I own the Santa Monica Tennis Center on Wilshire Boulevard and live close to the Third Street Promenade. That puts me right in the thick of it.

Just last Saturday, there was an arrest at Reed Park. The perpetrator (who had a knife) fought with local police. Another arrest was made recently -- again at Reed Park -- where a man indecently exposed himself to a mother and her child while they played tennis.

This criminal activity at the park is personal for me; I used to instruct tennis at the public courts, but had to stop as a consequence of the park's unseemly atmosphere. A number of parents told me they weren't comfortable dropping their children off, and I couldn’t blame them.

I’ve witnessed streets right by where I work and live being cordoned off due to homicides, home invasions, theft, sexual assault, battery, aggravated assault, petty theft and drug dealing.

This affects everyone; the new criminal element has made it unsafe for the law-abiding homeless population as well, as a series of recent tragic killings has made clear.

The reality is we just aren’t as safe as we were a few years ago; violent crime in Santa Monica rose by nearly 50 percent in 2017, according to data reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("Violent Crime in Santa Monica Jumps Almost 50 Percent to Reach Highest Level in Two Decades," May 14, 2018).

At least part of the blame lies with the introduction of the Blue Line which officially opened for business May 20, 2016. Criminals from outside our city now have a direct line to our neighborhoods, causing residents to refer to the Blue Line as the "crime train."

Sadly, I'm not convinced our City Council takes this problem seriously. I've been following the Council Q&A series in The Lookout, where incumbent council members have provided no shortage of benign campaign rhetoric on the issue ("City Council Candidates on Crime and Why They Are Running," October 1, 2018).

Their commentary, while revealing few real solutions, did make clear our local government’s relaxed attitude towards the problem.

One council member argued that the "reason for the [crime] increase matters less than our strong and timely Council response.”

I disagree; if the reason for the perceived lack of safety has do with missteps on the city's approach to crime, then doubling-down on the status quo isn't going to make things better.

Worse still was the notion that this “regional issue” lies out of our control. If that was true, how come violent crime in Los Angeles County has actually gone down over the last few years, while violent crime in Santa Monica continues to rise?

Perhaps the real solution, or at least a step in the right direction, lies in accepting unpopular truths about our city’s crime culture. As one candidate for council recently remarked, we “have the laws on the books but we’re just not enforcing them.”

This is reminiscent of another former crime hub -- New York City.

Streets that were once thought to be impossible to clean up became some of the safest -- but only after law enforcement sent a strong message that all laws, big and small, would be enforced to the greatest extent.

This policing style might have been popularized in NYC, but it worked in Los Angeles too, lowering crime rates and gang violence in the 2000s.

It’s time for our city to send its own message. But if our leaders continue to provide the same wishy-washy solutions for this ever-growing problem, I fear getting our safe, amiable city back will be near impossible.

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