Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Coffee with a Cop at the Holiday Substation on the Santa Monica Promenade

Heric admitted that it is difficult to arrest for shoplifting less than $950 in merchandise .....

We had a nice chat with Lieutenant Bill Heric of the Santa Monica Police Department at the "Coffee with a Cop" event Tuesday morning held at the holiday pop-up substation on the Third Street Promenade. The substation is a cheerfully appointed storefront right on the promenade in the block closest to Broadway. A spiffy, polished police bicycle sits in the window as if it's for sale.

Inside, a number of uniformed individuals were quick to greet all comers and invite them to ask their questions. Coffee was available in cheerful recyclable cups and there were even some dreidls to spin should anyone be so inclined.

But our conversation with Lieutenant Heric slanted toward less celebratory topics. We brought up the two matters that are top on the minds of most residents of Santa Monica: crime and homelessness.

Heric admitted that it is difficult to keep criminals off the street if they don't steal more than $950 in merchandise while they're shoplifting or burglarizing your car. In this case, the perpetrator has only committed a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is a year in county jail. What often happens is no jail time and simply probation. No time off the street at all. Obviously, there is little deterrent for the crime of petty theft.

Heric added that auto burglary, opening someone else's car door and stealing what's inside, can not be considered a felony unless there is evidence the car had been locked at the time of the theft. This is another reason the police would like people to remember to lock their car doors. Not only does it make it more difficult for people to steal what's inside the car, but it also makes the crime of that theft into a felony. Evidence can be as simple as the car owner declaring the car had been locked. If the car door is not locked, however, any theft of what's inside is only a misdemeanor (unless the value of the items goes over that magic $950 number).

Heric acknowledged that Proposition 47, the law that reduced many property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, was maybe not a good idea. He said "I would repeal it," and then added, "I would repeal it a little bit." If the job of policing involves both carrots and sticks, he said this law takes away their sticks.

As for the homeless, Heric calls that a complex issue. "Complex," he made clear. "Not complicated." To deal with the roughly 800 plus homeless on our city's streets takes time. Homeless individuals need to be contacted multiple times and some rapport built while solutions are sought. "We can't enforce our way out of this," he said.

We also spoke to Suzie Lockwood, Crime Prevention Coordinator, about the homeless. She had a high opinion of the city's use of a C3 Team. The three Cs stand for City+County+Community. Each team is comprised of multiple disciplines, including a nurse, a mental health clinician, and a substance abuse counselor. The teams go out to meet and treat the homeless where they are, on the street. Each individual case is handled uniquely. The C3 teams target the hardest cases. Studies are showing that this approach, though expensive, is the one with the most evidence of success.

Other groups, such as Ron Hooks' West Coast Care, target the newly homeless and seek to reunite such people with their families. This approach also is meeting with good success.

Perhaps it was the holiday spirit with Christmas decorations going up on the Promenade all around us, but our chat with the police ended with a sense of optimism for the future and the ability to make some headway regarding problems that can seem intractable.


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