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Santa Monica Police Twice as Slow to Arrive than in Comparable Southern California Cities, Audit Finds

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 23, 2018 -- On average, Santa Monica police took more than half an hour to respond to calls for assistance in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, twice the average time reported by comparable Southern California cities, a new outside audit of municipal services has found.

Preliminary findings by the auditors for Moss Adams reported the average response time for Santa Monica police was 33.2 minutes last fiscal year, a finding the Police Department disputes.

The average among the peer cities scrutinized was 16.8 minutes, auditors said.

And, although Santa Monica is not known for major crime, the rate of serious crime per resident was 58 percent higher than the average among peers, auditors said.

In Santa Monica, 363 residents (per 100,000) were victims of serious crime in 2016-2017, compared to the average of 230 residents among cities included in the comparison.

The lowest rate was 94 serious crimes per 100,000 residents and the highest was 427 per 100,000 residents. (The study does not specify which cities reported the lowest and highest numbers)

In this category specifically, the data includes the peer cities which responded to Moss Adams’ survey. They are Burbank, Culver City, Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Barbara and Torrance.

An SMPD spokesman said the department is eyeing the data with some skepticism, both since findings are in preliminary form and the department is still trying to verify the numbers auditors used for Santa Monica.

“We’re in the process of vetting those numbers,” said Lt. Saul Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Police. The quickest response time in the audit -- only 3.8 minutes -- is likely an error in how the number was calculated, he said.

“No way can there be a response time like (that),” Rodriguez said. ”I’m going to tell you that (response time) is not the truth.

“Our response time is generally very, very low" in terms of minutes until arrival, he said, adding that five minutes is a better estimate of arrival time.

In Santa Monica, response time starts with the moment a call comes in to the moment police arrive on scene, and all calls -- from a missing bicycle to a major crime -- are included, Rodriguez said.

If officers must decide, the major crime gets priority and the bicycle is shunted behind, he said. That is one reason the response could be so long, on average, as found in the audit.

It is not yet known if other police departments included all calls when they reported their response times.

The audit was unveiled in draft form in November to the City’s Audit Subcommittee and to the ad hoc citizen’s panel formed to assist in shaping the scope and other particulars of Moss Adams’ analysis. The final version was expected this month.

The 33-minute response time cited in the audit did not go over well among critics of how City Hall does business and the amount it pays police and all other employees -- among the highest per capita in California cities.

One longtime critic called the SMPD’s response time “miserable.”

It is evidence “our City Council has failed at their number one job responsibility of keeping residents safe,” said Armen Melkonians, who started, one of the most persistent critics of City Hall.

“If our elected officials spent even 10 percent of the time they spend on development project approvals on life safety policies, I’m sure things would be different,” he said. “It’s clear that their priorities are out of whack and that they need to be fired."

Laurence Eubank, a member of an ad hoc committee of citizens looking at the issue of City employee compensation, also found reason for concern.

“If the results (regarding police performance) are mediocre, that calls into question what the heck are we paying for,” he said.


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