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Serious Crime Drops Downtown, Shoplifting Soars

By Jorge Casuso

Second in a series

August 28 – Reports of serious crime Downtown fell last year, but a tanking economy could slow, if not reverse, the downward trend in the bustling shopping district, which has seen reports of shoplifting soar in the first half of this year, according to the latest crime statistics.

Mirroring a citywide trend that saw serious crime drop to the lowest levels since the mid-1950s, the number of serious crimes -- defined by the FBI as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and arson -- dropped Downtown, from 795 in 2006 to 692 last year. ("Serious Crime Drops to Record Lows," August 5, 2008)

Still, reports of shoplifting are on pace to double this year, with 112 reported incidents in the first half of 2088, compared to 143 in all of last year.

The spike was in large part due to a dramatic increase in shoplifting on the Third Street Promenade – with the 78 incidents reported in the first half of 2008 exceeding the 73 that took place on the bustling strip in all of last year.

The dramatic spike is largely due to an ailing economy that has helped spur a 19 percent hike so far this year in shoplifting and stealing from autos across the city, said Police Chief Tim Jackson.

New baet area map. For map of old beat areas click here. (Maps courtesy of Santa Monica Police Department)

In addition, the department’s new community policing model – which dedicates a particular officer to a beat and makes that officer more accessible and accountable – has encouraged merchants to report more crimes, Jackson said. (“Police Department Launches New Beat Plan,” October 30, 2008)

“Our new patrol plan has had an effect,” said Jackman, who launched the new model at the start of this year. “Part of it (the increase in crime) is a reporting issue. People are reporting more crimes.”

The new model not only saw an area patrolled 24 hours a day by the same officers, it also restructured policing beats that had been in place for four decades, realigning the boundaries to correspond more closely to those of the city’s eight neighborhoods.

In the Downtown, that meant pushing the boundary to Wilshire Boulevard on the north and Lincoln Boulevard on the east, “so it dealt with problems in the area,” Jackman said. It also excluded the beach from the Downtown beat, integrating the area into a separate beach patrol.

“We created a more effective policing strategy,” Jackman said. “We’re creating a greater awareness with the community. We’re creating a greater team effort.”

Police are not only forging stronger ties with merchants and residents, they are working more closely with the Bayside District Corporation, which runs the Downtown; with the City’s Public Works Department and with Community and Cultural Services, which is in charge of tackling the homeless problem, Jackman said.

In fact, the City’s success in cracking down on criminal behavior by the homeless population – which Jackman believes accounts for more than 40 percent of all arrests in Santa Monica – is in large part responsible for the general drop in crime Downtown.

“We have a much more comprehensive approach to handling the homeless problem, and this is leading to a significant drop in crime,” Jackman said. “We’re taking a much more aggressive stance.”

“We’re trying to get folks to make choices,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to ask themselves, ‘Is this really what we want to do?’

“For many years we’ve created an enabling culture,” Jackman said. “Now we provide folks either with services or with facing some pretty strong consequences.”

The crackdown has contributed to a decrease in nearly every category of serious crime Downtown, which has the city’s largest concentration of people living on the streets, Jackman said.

According to the statistics, the number of reported rapes Downtown dropped from five in 2006 to two last year, while there were no homicides in either year.

Aggravated assaults Downtown dropped from 58 in 2006 to 44 last year, and there have only been 17 such reports so far this year.

Burglary and attempted burglaries also dropped dramatically, from 94 in 2006 to only 50 last year, although 14 of the reported incidents in 2006 took place at Santa Monica Place, where stores were closing for a major remodel, resulting in no incidents reported last year.

Larcenies – which include shoplifting, pickpockets, purse snatching, thefts from autos and thefts of bicycles – also dropped, from 552 in 2006 to 497 last year, with the number of larcenies at the indoor mall dropping from 83 to 59.

Among the larcenies, thefts from autos dropped slightly from 156 in 2006 to 144, most of them taking place in the six public parking structures and the two structures at Santa Monica Place, which remain open during the renovation.

The number of reported thefts from autos has dropped to 47 during the first six months of 2008 thanks to the arrest of a suspect responsible for a series of thefts.

“He went for about a year” without being caught, Jackman said.

Bicycle theft also was way down last year, from 68 in 2006 to 50 last year. The number has dropped to only 13 during the first six months of this year.

In fact, the only category that saw an increase Downtown in 2007 was robbery, with the number of reported incidents rising from 48 in 2006 to 54 last year. In the first half of 2008, there have been 20 reported robberies.

The shoplifting spree during the first six months of this year has contributed to a total of 446 serious crimes reported, compared to 692 for all of last year.

And with the economy showing no signs of improving and the holiday shopping season -- which normally sees a rise in shoplifting and thefts from cars -- still to come, 2008 could see a general increase in crime Downtown.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of ongoing articles about crime in Santa Monica and its eight neighborhoods.


“We’re creating a greater awareness with the community. We’re creating a greater team effort.” Tim Jackman


"People are reporting more crimes.”


“We have a much more comprehensive approach to handling the homeless problem, and this is leading to a significant drop in crime.”


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