Faced with publicity about recent crimes in the city’s Boystown nightlife area, complaints about growing crime on the city’s Eastside and poor customer service by the local Sheriff’s Station, the City of West Hollywood will consider engaging outside consultants to help study the station’s organization and operation.
The study is proposed by Council members Lauren Meister and John D’Amico. It would involve staff of the city’s Public Safety Department working with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Contract Law Division and external consultants. West Hollywood does not have its own police force but contracts with the county Sheriff’s Department for police services, paying almost $18 million a year.
The study also would include a look at the Block by Block Ambassador program in which the city contracts with SMS Holdings to provide public safety staff on bicycles around Santa Monica Boulevard who alert Sheriff’s deputies to crimes and advise local residents on public safety issues.
In a memo to the City Council, which will consider the proposal at its meeting tonight, D’Amico and Meister said: “The goal of the assessment is to ensure that the Sheriff’s Department has the necessary support from the City, but also utilizes resources and delivers service in the most efficient and effective way possible to meet the public safety needs of the community.”
The Sheriff’s Station has made changes in its staffing in recent months in response to high-profile crimes. Perhaps the most controversial of those crimes was the assault on Memorial Day weekend of Kirk Doffing, a West Hollywood resident, by a group of men in the city’s Boystown nightlife area. After being punched by one of those men, Doffing fell to the ground, sustaining a fracture to his skull from which he has yet to fully recover. Local residents responded by demanding more foot patrols by the Sheriff’s Station, almost all of whose officers cruise the small and densely populated city in patrol cars rather than on foot. In response, the Sheriff’s station announced that it was adding an additional two-person foot patrol to the one it previously had. However the station’s Lt. David Smith has conceded that the station can’t always find officers willing to work overtime to staff those two foot patrols.
Reports of an increase in homeless people on the city’s Eastside, along with growth in nightlife along Santa Monica Boulevard on the east and an increasing younger population, have led residents of that area to also demand a greater police presence.
There also have been complaints by residents that Sheriff’s deputies have seemed uninterested in complaints they try to make about crimes. Several residents made those complaints at “Coffee with the Captain,” a public forum hosted last month by Mayor Lindsey Horvath with local residents, station Capt. Gary Honings and Lt. Smith. .
“There’s a disconnect between what you’re telling your deputies and how they treat us, because when we call, we’re the problem,” said a tenant of an apartment building on the Eastside who had complained about homeless people. “I called about suspicious behavior and a possible breaking-and-entering, and I got a lecture on the socio-economic plight of homelessness.”
The Meister / D’Amico proposal also notes that city staffers are working with Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates to prepare a “citizens’ report card” that will assess residents’ overall satisfaction with public safety-related services. “This survey may include a random telephone survey, stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and/or a community meeting. The results will inform the City regarding community perception of the quality of public safety related services,” the proposal says.
At least one member of the city’s Public Safety Commission and WEHOville have raised questions about the validity of such a survey given the fact that the city’s large population of young people is relatively transient; is more likely to rely solely on a cell phone, sometimes with a distant area code, than a landline that a surveyor can call, and is relatively unengaged in civic life, as reflected in the city’s very low voter turnout. In addition, many of those affected by nightlife crimes are visitors to West Hollywood rather than local residents.
The Council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Free parking, with a ticket validated at the Council chambers, is available in the five-story structure off El Tovar Place.