With bigger budget come higher expectations for security ambassadors

West Hollywood is putting its money on Block by Block.

City Council reviewed a new contract with the security ambassadors at their meeting Monday night that invests an additional $3.94 million in the program over the next two fiscal years, for a total of $11.5 million.

The contract marks the start of a new era for public safety in WeHo, one in which the city relies more heavily on the unarmed parapolice squad while eventually reducing the presence of sworn L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies.

A representative of the Block by Block program speaking at City Council’s Monday night meeting.

Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember John Erickson expressed concern about whether Block by Block would be able to staff the additional 30 security ambassadors decided upon last month within the 60-day period of the agreement. Block by Block apparently is still in the process of recruiting six new positions that were approved prior to that.

“My biggest concern right now is the hiring of these individuals,” Erickson said, “and I know that we’re not taking away one Sheriff’s deputy at the moment, but we do need those important check-ins if this item is to pass. Either to the council or the city manager, update us that we’ve hired all six. So that item is done. Now we’re hiring 30. We have it going on and hopefully it’s sooner rather than later so this continues to work.”

The reduction of Sheriff’s personnel approved during last month’s budget meeting isn’t immediate. Erickson’s motion, which directed staff to return in 45 days with an update on Block by Block’s hiring and recruiting progress, included a recommendation by Meister that would allow Council to delay the budget reduction plans for the Sheriff if Block by Block’s hiring is not up to pace. The motion passed 4-0.

Public Safety Comissioner Kerri Balbone, speaking generally in support of the measure as a member of the public, offered her take on the way the costs are shaping up.

“We started out with the financial equivalent of five sheriff’s (deputies) or $1.65 million,” Balbone said. “Now that that’s going back to Block by Block for pricing, we’re at $1.95 million. If this was meant to be a budget exercise to provide more safety and security in a budget-neutral fashion, it’s now not that anymore, and I think that needs to be addressed. Overhead, whether it’s the Sheriff’s Department or Block by Block, is part of pricing. So 1.65 should equal 1.65.”

The new contract sheds some light on what Block by Block is actually obligated to provide the city, and some of their listed responsibilities reflect recent controversies the organization has weathered.

Block by Block will now provide 1,200 hours of foot patrols each week at key locations, including Beverly Blvd. and Melrose Ave. Ambassadors will man security kiosks at Plummer Park and West Hollywood park restrooms, on Santa Monica Blvd. and La Brea, and four yet-to-be-determined spots. The program is also purchasing two electric bicycles.

In addition to “reducing crime and increasing the perception of security,” ambassadors are also supposed to move scooters and electric bikes out of people’s way and educate riders on how to use them properly. They are also tasked with providing “directions, business recommendations, and parking choices” and, curiously, “reporting large and bulky items and rout(ing) to the appropriate person.”

The new contract clearly states that personnel must pass a background check and “be found to have no criminal conviction that renders him or her unsuitable for the position for which he or she is intended.”

It was recently revealed that WeHo’s top Block by Block officer Shea Gibson served eight years in state prison on a voluntary manslaughter charge.

The city reserves the right to have ambassadors removed or replaced at any time.

The contract requires Block by Block to supply and maintain equipment like phones and radios. Another recent report alleged that the program had been derelict in doing so.

Ambassadors are also obligated to keep detailed reports about the areas patrolled each hour, interactions with the public, and communications with the Sheriff’s and Fire Departments. They will also be carrying Narcan, a treatment for drug overdoses, and test strips that detect spiked drinks.

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Ian
Ian
10 days ago

This idiocy will go down in history as the biggest political scam ever rammed down the throats of citizens.
There is no way they should be authorized to ever change the basic civil protection of residents without a referendum. The city charter must be amended.
This can never be allowed to happen again.

WeHo Resident
WeHo Resident
12 days ago

A concern I have about BBB is that it feels like we (the city) are leaning on them for more and more tasks. From moving scooters to deterring crime to administering Narcan, etc. I just feel like we’re expecting these security guards to do more than they are trained to do and more than they can handle. “Can Block by Block do it?” feels like a common refrain amongst *some* city council members. The truth is, these folks are not highly paid or particularly highly trained workers. I am not discounting their service (and I’m thankful we have them) but… Read more »

Boy Scout Troop
Boy Scout Troop
12 days ago
Reply to  WeHo Resident

Is there a local Boy Scout Troop available. They could do some of these things for merit badges.

Davedi
Davedi
12 days ago

They better check them out thoroughly. Just look around at security guards at your local stores and pot shops. Half of them look like part time gang members.

Cover
Cover
12 days ago
Reply to  Davedi

Interesting thought and a great cover. One gets a bird’seye look at what is happening in our neighborhoods. It’s like the parking valets behind breakins at people’s homes and car thefts.

McMansion Owner
McMansion Owner
12 days ago

This is the most idiotic idea ever concocted by a governing body in the history of government. A criminal intent on harming someone is not going to listen to someone wearing a shirt that reads ‘security ambassador’. I can handle myself but someone with a weapon is a challenge for all of us sans the REAL police. Maybe if the governing body didn’t have prosecutorial immunity things would be different?

Sheila
Sheila
13 days ago

I’ve already had them running my errands, they get me coffee, the get my dry cleaning & get my groceries.
I love them!
Thank you Shepi! You can run for anything.

JF1
JF1
13 days ago

There hasn’t been a “security ambassador“ in the Norma Triangle. Ever.

Davedi
Davedi
12 days ago
Reply to  JF1

Ive never even seen Norma.

Susie Q
Susie Q
13 days ago

I worry that if Block By Block is having trouble finding 6 people in a timely fashion, how are they going to find 30 within 60 days? And if they are pressured to hire so many people so quickly, will they lower their standards in order to maintain their contract with the city of West Hollywood? The City Council should be monitoring this VERY CAREFULLY!

JF1
JF1
13 days ago
Reply to  Susie Q

The city council gave us this mess. I wouldn’t trust them to monitor a pot of boiling water.

Ian
Ian
10 days ago
Reply to  JF1

Or paint drying.

“Block Washing”
“Block Washing”
13 days ago

Isn’t changing the language in the new contract tantamount to an admission of guilt in originally hiring a convicted felon? The “Block Washing” last evening was spectacularly evident with all council members signing on. Not sure if a change of hiring requirements doesn’t open a larger can of worms including legal challenges. Only in West Hollywood …..as Mike Jenkins former City Attorney stated at a Malibu City Council Meeting “we do what we want until the courts say otherwise”.

:dpb
:dpb
13 days ago

A big mistake.

hifi5000
hifi5000
13 days ago

I see there is a clause in the new Block By Block contract stating an applicant “be found to have no criminal conviction that renders him or her unsuitable for the position for which he or she is intended.” It sounds great,but the language is somewhat vague on what criminal convictions an applicant should not have.Does that mean all felonies or just certain ones? Another question I have is if this clause was in the old contract.I am thinking the city closed a gap in the contract language,so there will be no more occurrences like this Gibson situation. With Block… Read more »

voting
voting
13 days ago

The new contract clearly states that personnel must pass a background check and “be found to have no criminal conviction that renders him or her unsuitable for the position for which he or she is intended.”

If Shea Gibson is not removed from his position for going to jail for killing someone, exactly what is your criteria for hiring? Are robbers and thieves also okay?

I question the type of person who even take this job–agreeing to ride a bike around West Hollywood all day looking for trouble? Not someone I would put an iota of faith in.

JF1
JF1
13 days ago
Reply to  voting

Yup. Just what is the standard if we have someone convicted of killing someone in charge of the whole operation? Is there even a standard? The whole thing is such a joke. It’s a bunch of people in nice golf shirts with walkie-talkies that have absolutely no more authority or ability to protect people than any other citizen on the street. A. Joke.

Last edited 13 days ago by JF1
greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
12 days ago
Reply to  voting

“Regarding background checks, the RFP process by which Block by Block was selected includes specific requirements for adherence to guidelines established by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Block by Block has responded, in a statement, that it complies with state law in not taking into consideration criminal convictions older than seven years — the City respects Block by Block’s stated adherence to state law on this matter.”

Apparently people missed this statement by the city. Labor laws are important!

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