BEVERLY HILLS 2024/2/4 – “Know what’s the main difference between the fire chief and the police chief?”, asks Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook. “No one tells the fire chief how to fight fires. But everyone’s an expert on how to fight crime.”
Robin Rowe, the progressive Beverly Hills City Council candidate, agrees with Chief Stainbrook when he says Beverly Hills doesn’t lack police officers. The other nine candidates for City Council have each made campaign promises to keep hiring more officers, to increase the City police budget beyond what’s planned.
“Just because you add police officers, no studies have shown that that actually decreases crime,” says Stainbrook. “There are all kinds of different factors when you talk about crime. So, one of the things we’ve been doing to keep crime incredibly low here compared to all the other places around us, is for example, technology, which is persistent cameras here 24/7.”
Conservative candidates for City Council say they are fearful of the future of Beverly Hills, have made some wild predictions that a devastating crime wave will happen when the Metro opens in 2025.
“It’s hard to understand what the impact of a Metro station will be,” says Stainbrook. “We’ve done extensive studies and in certain areas, there hasn’t been much of an impact in terms of crime. In other areas, there’s been a higher level of crime. So, we’re trying to balance everything and make sure we grow in a sustainable manner, but also one that we’re being respectful of taxpayers’ dollars. It costs a lot to train, hold, and pay for a police officer over a long period of time.”
BHPD is fully staffed at 145 officers, its current level. However, Chief Stainbrook is hiring more in advance of the Metro station opening next year, in anticipation that more officers may be needed then. “We’re already working on over-hiring to 150,” says Stainbrook, “and then having funding to go beyond that as well.”
In 2023, the Beverly Hills Police Department handled made over 1,500 arrests, handled 66,000 calls for service, wrote 5,000 tickets, and had 30 complaints from the public.
“We didn’t cost the City any money with liability or civil lawsuits, or any of that,” says Stainbrook. “So, my point is that your police officers are doing a lot of work out there. They’re doing a really good job. And they’re not costing the city money by doing dumb things. They’re arresting the right people at the right times. And they’re doing a great job.”
“Research is clear that the certainty of getting caught, not the severity of punishment, is what can deter crime.,” according to The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. “This means that a dollar spent on increasing the likelihood of being arrested for committing a crime does far more to reduce crime than a dollar spent to incarcerate someone longer.”
How much effect does surveillance have on human behavior? The certainty of getting caught is an opinion that can be changed in people’s minds.
National Geographic Brain Games host Jason Silva ran an experiment, setting up a booth on a busy sidewalk with the sign “FREE MONEY” and a big clear plastic container containing cash on its counter. Would people take free money? Silva found it difficult to persuade them. People assumed it was a trick.
After Silva walked away, more people were taking the money, but still seemed suspicious. Silva next put up a huge poster of his eyes in the booth. People were so put off by the staring eyes poster that none took the money.
Conservatives say that prosecution is what deters crime. Conservative candidates for City Council say they want to replace Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, the Democrat DA re-elected after Republicans mounted a very loud but failed recall campaign.
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. California jails are full. One conservative candidate, a retired litigator, who has made a campaign promise to have Beverly Hills hire more prosecutors, had no answer when asked where to put the convicts. Beverly Hills has no jail of its own, needs the County or State to house anyone convicted of a crime in Beverly Hills. Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court has declared that prison overcrowding is so severe it is illegal.
Taking into account that there is nowhere to house more convicts, progressive candidate Rowe says the solution is crime prevention.
“Beverly Hills has focused on solving crimes after they happen,” says Rowe. “We need to put uniformed officers back on foot patrol to deter crime. ICMA recommends that two-thirds of the total number of sworn officers be assigned to the patrol function, and that is also the national average at police departments. Beverly Hills has perhaps 5% on foot patrol. Beverly Hills relies too much on its so-called Ambassadors, private security who are not police. The Ambassadors are not empowered to do anything except report a crime in progress, then wait for a real police officer to arrive.”
“So going to security, I think people there’s some sort of misnomer that, oh, my gosh, if we got rid of the security would hire all these more cops,” says Stainbrook. “It doesn’t really work that way. It takes two years probably, in most cases to hire and fully trained police officer. The best way to think of the security folks is they do a different job, they do a different mission that allows and frees up officers to focus on doing police work.”
Instead of putting cops on a beat, the BHPD focus over the last year has been the new real time watch center, with all the drones, CCTV camera systems, and AI technology to do intelligence and our crime analysis through data analytics.
“Over the last year, 100 agencies have come to look at what we’re doing with technology, because we’ve had not only so much success solving our own crimes, but crimes from other cities as well,” says Stainbrook. “Some of which have had similar groups hitting their cities as well, like some of these smash-and-grabs and stuff like that. So, the real time watch center has been reorganized and continues to move forward. All good there.”
“While it’s great that Beverly Hills is solving crimes not only here but across the country in other cities using AI, and we should keep doing that, what we need now is to focus on crime prevention in Beverly Hills,” says Rowe. “While working for the Department of Defense, I was one of the creators of AI military surveillance technology. AI surveillance has subsequently been adopted for civilian use by police departments, particularly in Beverly Hills. I get it what AI can do. I founded the AI research lab at a multi-billion-dollar defense company. However, as powerful as AI is, it doesn’t think for us. AI and the Beverly Hills Police Department are only as good at the leaders at City Council making policy for their use.”
Progressive candidate Rowe says it’s important to have a technologist who developed AI on the City Council, someone who understands the strengths and limitations of AI.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police suggests 3.4 officers for every 1,000 residents, but only as a rough guideline and notes that officers should be deployed in a manner that addresses crime patterns, service calls, minimum daily staffing, geography and city budgets. ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, recommends officer staffing be based on crime rates per the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) index and 911 calls for service (CFS) per 1,000 population,
Beverly Hills is a 5.7 square mile city with 32,000 residents and a daytime population of 200,000. According to the FBI, nationwide, the average number of sworn officers was 2.4 per 1,000 inhabitants. With 145 sworn officers, Beverly Hills number is 4.5 per thousand residents, twice the national average. That is 36 more officers than the 3.4 per thousand that the IACP suggests, but may be reasonable taking into account the high tourist traffic and wealth of Beverly Hills. It doesn’t suggest a shortage of police officers.
“If you look at the crime in Beverly Hills, we average about 125 crimes a month,” says Stainbrook. “If we didn’t have Rite Aid, CVS, and Neiman Marcus, we’d be down about 25 crimes, and we’d probably be under 100 a month on most months. Because most of our crime is actually in those three businesses, maybe add one other business in there. And most of them are petty crimes. We had some nice drop in crime and our aggravated assaults.”
Stainbrook notes that Beverly Hills received a $4.5 million grant to fight organized retail theft and expects to execute on that grant for the over the next three years of performance period.
Except for progressive candidate Robin Rowe, all nine of the other candidates for Beverly Hills City Council want to hire more police officers beyond what is planned.
Note: Readers may wonder how being staffed at 145 sworn officers today, and Beverly Hills increasing staffing to 150 or 152 as budgeted, can be considered being fully staffed and having enough police officers. Aren’t they needing to hire more to reach 150? BHPD has already been hiring the officers to reach 150, as the staffing process takes 18 months to two years, from applying, to being a fully trained officer who has been background-checked, completed six months of police academy, and had six months of field training. BHPD is also over-hiring officers to overlap officers retiring, to stay fully staffed during transitions.