Community-oriented policing has moved into its next generation under a new Patrol Plan that went into effect last Sunday, January 27, says the Santa Monica Police Department.
The boundaries of the SMPD beats, virtually unchanged for 50 years, have been redrawn to be consistent with the territory covered by neighborhood associations, business improvement districts, and the geographic realities of Santa Monica today. Each of the eight new beats has a Neighborhood Resource Officer (NRO) who oversees a team of patrol officers who cover the same beat each day with the goal of establishing a neighborhood rapport.
SMPD Lt. Clinton Muir, Program Manager for the new Patrol Plan, likened the NROs to small town sheriffs as he projected an image of Andy Griffith on the screen at a press briefing last week. Clearly excited about the new program, Muir said that the excitement extended throughout the department, as nearly one-third of the approximately 65 patrol officers applied for the eight NRO positions.
The Redrawn Beats
The new beat boundaries are designed to more accurately reflect the neighborhood structure of the City and provide for a more sensible division of police response. For example, instead of drawing a boundary down the middle of Pico Boulevard or Montana Avenue, as had been done under the previous system, the boundaries are drawn so that both sides of each street are for the most part in the same beat.
Similarly, natural geographic barriers, such as the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) and the Palisades bluffs now define beat boundaries. Beat 3 (downtown) runs from the Palisades Park railing east to Lincoln Boulevard and from the freeway north to California Avenue in recognition of statistical studies of crime distribution in the area.
In the past, officers had been assigned to various beats on various days during one of four watches that cover the 24-hour day. Under the new plan, each patrol officer will cover the same beat for a six-month period. The NROs are “in for the long haul,” said Lt. Muir, and not just for six-month tours. And Cpt. Wendell Shirley, Commander of the Office of Operations, under whose command the new Patrol Plan falls, added that the patrol officers need not be reassigned after their six-month tour but may well stay with their beat for longer periods.
The whole idea, Muir explained, is to enable the residents and businesses in each beat to get to know their NRO and patrol officers, and to enable the police to get to know the people on their beat. That personal relationship, and the trust that it could engender, would make the police-community partnership more effective in protecting and preserving public safety, said Lt. Muir.
Still Call 911 in Emergency
The 911 emergency dispatch system will remain in effect, said Muir, but for residents and businesses that want to discuss ongoing concerns, each NRO will carry a Blackberry and be able to respond to telephone calls and text and email messages. He also expressed the hope that the NROs and patrol officers would be able to cover their beats so as to meet the neighbors on a personal level.
Finally, the department announced that it was revamping its website to include detailed contact information for each of the NROs (complete with photographs), but said that this would probably not be available until early summer.
In general, the new beat areas are as follows:
1. The full length of the beach to the top of the bluffs in the north and to Barnard Way in the south.
2. Ocean Park and Civic Center.
3. Downtown, as described above.
4. West of 20th Street and south of Montana Avenue to the freeway (excluding Beat 3).
5. North of Montana Avenue, including both sides of Montana.
6. 20th Street east, south of Montana to the freeway.
7. Sunset Park, including both sides of Lincoln Boulevard.
8. The Pico neighborhood, south of the freeway and including both sides of Pico Boulevard.