The first Venice Neighborhood Public Safety Committee Meeting of the Year featured a report from representatives of Pacific Division with an update on how recent budget and subsequent staffing cuts will affect their response to 911 calls. According to Pacific Division Captain Steve Embrich, changes are being made in the department as a result of funding cuts and fiscal crisis.
Embrich stated that after careful evaluation, the Department looked at areas where calls could be handled far more efficiently by other City entities, and talks are ongoing about having dispatch re-route them as they are received. They are:
1. Calls regarding homelessness. These will be most often referred to either 211 (mental health crisis line), or to 311 (sanitation).
2. Animal off-leash calls (of which there were 1187 last year). These will be referred to the Department of Animal Regulation.
3. Calls more appropriately forwarded to the Department of Transportation (e.g., a malfunctioning traffic signal).
4. Traffic collision calls which don't involve a crime and which need to be recorded for insurance purposes will be referred to an online recording system.
5. Vandalism under $5000, burglary from motor vehicles, narcotics & vice activity (unless a suspect is still at the scene of the crime) will be referred to the Crimestoppers tip line. Embrich stated this system is already in place and has been working well thus far.
6. Mental illness crisis calls will be referred to the Didi Hirsch suicide prevention/mental health crisis hotline, which is available 24/7. LAPD officers will still, however, respond to a suicide in progress and mental health episodes which involve the use of a weapon. LAPD will also partner with the Department of Mental Health, as they already do downtown, in making 51/50 evaluations and enforcements.
7. Police will no longer be dispatched to every death investigation, only those which are deemed suspicious or "unnatural".
8. Welfare checks will be outsourced to service providers.
9. Calls to activated alarms will only involve LAPD if those alarms are first found to have a valid permit.
Committee member Mark Ryavec was chosen to lead the Board and Public follow up questioning (public questions for the LAPD may be submitted in advance via email to email@example.com). His first question was why, in response to an 8 percent cut in funding, Pacific Division appeared to be outsourcing 20 percent of their call volume. Capt. Embrich responded that the calls he listed did not involve anywhere near the time-consuming effort that such matters as violent crime investigations do, and he expected this new approach to allow for much more time for much more serious matters.
Ryavec mentioned that at a recent homeless committee meeting there was some talk of gang members dealing drugs and living within the Bridge Home. He asked if the officers had heard anything about this, and whether they were working with Pacific Division's service providers. Officer Monique Contreras responded that she had not heard or witnessed anything about narcotics within the facility, although narcotics use had been witnessed near it. She also stated that she has for some time wanted to have regular conversations with Bridge Home staff, and that Tuesday was her first. She plans to continue to have these meetings bi-weekly, and the public are encouraged to alert her to any concerns, which she will then discuss with the service providers. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overall, LAPD said that crime is down in the Pacific Division -- down 8.2% for 2020, down 15% for the month between the Committee's December and January meetings. Property crimes are down 22.5%, and theft from vehicles is down 25% over the prior month. Unfortunately, violent crimes -- homicides and assaults -- are up 50%. Officer Embrich acknowledged that some of the decrease could be attributed to seasonal factors.
In response to a question about how the community can help with Pacific Division's efforts, they are encouraged to communicate with the DA's office about the direction they feel the police should go. Because the force is struggling with deployment due to cutbacks, once Covid restrictions are no longer in place they would like to develop community assistants on patrol who could drive around neighborhoods in uniform to deter thefts and to act as "early spotters", as well as volunteers to monitor the 21 camera surveillance system at Venice Beach and report suspicious activity on Ocean Front Walk.
The meeting ended with members discussing what they would like to prioritize in 2021. Allan Parsons mentioned that several of his requests for public records had been filled, and that he looked forward to taking a more "data-driven" approach to addressing safety in Venice going forward. Both Helen Fallon and Eva Greene mentioned concerns regarding ADA accessibility issues with homeless encampments as well as runoff into the ocean from trash-covered sidewalks. Mark Ryavec said he would like to reach out to other government agencies (in particular, LAHSA, St. Joseph's and the Department of Mental Health) in order to get a more accurate picture of what's going on in Venice. Finally, the Committee's Chair, Soledad Ursua, stated that she felt they were off to a good start (this was only their second meeting with her as Chair), and that it was her 2021 resolution to listen more, even though it can sometimes be frustrating to listen to stakeholders complain. She encouraged everyone in the community to reach out to the committee with their concerns.
The meeting adjourned around 6:45pm.