West Hollywood’s City Council is shifting millions of dollars away from the Sheriff’s Department budget over the next two years, investing instead in the Block by Block security ambassadors program, expecting them to take on a greater role in public safety as fewer Sheriff’s deputies patrol the streets.
But Block by Block is simply not prepared for that, one security ambassador has told WEHOville. He shared his experiences under the condition of anonymity.
He says Block by Block operates a dysfunctional working environment where equipment is broken or absent and security offers are woefully under-qualified for the jobs.
City Council approved a budget for 2022-23 and 2023-24 that will eventually add 30 new ambassadors to the force.
He doesn’t see how that will happen. Management is already struggling to fill open positions, and the quality of the applicants is far below ideal.
“Some of these ambassadors that they’re hiring are not knowledgeable,” he said. “For a lot of them, it’s just a job, just a paycheck. They’re clueless about what goes on in the city.”
The vetting process for new ambassadors leaves much to be desired, he said.
“As long as you have a valid California Guard Card and you can pass the drug test, that’s all you need. You could have something minor on your record, but they’re not gonna look into it as long as you have that valid Guard Card. Law enforcement agencies require three or more intensive background checks and training. It’s nothing like that for the ambassadors.”
The program’s operating manager Shea Gibson was recently revealed to have an extensive criminal record with a conviction and prison time.
The Block by Block company disputes the claim that their vetting process is weak.
“Block by Block is in compliance with the City of West Hollywood’s procurement and vendor policies in that we conduct employment prescreening, including criminal background checks, on all job applicants after an applicant has been made a conditional offer of employment,” said Vice President of Operations Derrick Hughes. “In California, employment screening laws state that employers cannot ask about, or take into consideration, criminal convictions older than seven years. Based on the guidance of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if a background check reveals a criminal conviction, Block by Block considers the nature and gravity of the offense; the time that has passed since the offense, or the employee’s completion of any sentence given as a result of the offense; and the nature of the job held or sought.”
Beyond that, there is a lack of work ethic and low morale that is endemic to the program, he claims.
“There’s ambassadors that don’t want to ride the bike. They don’t want to talk to the homeless. They just want to walk around and not deal with the general public. They weren’t prepared to take on this job. Sometimes they will just hang out at businesses and restaurants and freeload.”
Worse still, some ambassadors are incapable of doing one of their most vital tasks — taking reports.
“You asked them what is the description of such and such person: what were they wearing? ‘I don’t know,’ they say. What was their race? I mean they’re supposed to be observing, reporting, like a witness. They can’t.”
Ambassadors, unlike armed law enforcement agents, wield no more power than the average citizen. The most they can do is make nonbinding verbal commands to potential suspects. In the past, the program had issues with ambassadors going beyond their purview, detaining suspects illegally and acting as a rogue force.
He says the security kiosks on Santa Monica Blvd./La Brea and West Hollywood Park, much lauded by City Council, aren’t doing much good.
“They just stand there, with their head down, staring at their phones,” he said, instead of observing and keeping watch.
While using a phone on duty is against policy, it’s unenforced, especially in light of the fact that other communication tools like walkie-talkies are in too short supply or perpetually out of service.
It’s the same with bicycles.
“We have less than 15 bikes right now and maybe like six are in use,” he said.