Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings when visiting Santa Monica and you can enjoy a safe and enjoyable visit.
The City of Santa Monica is a suburb in the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Although there are 10 million people in LA County, just 90,000 live in Santa Monica (although that’s hard to believe when see the crowds on a hot summer weekend). Like any big city in the United States, LA has its fare share of criminals eager to take advantage of an unlocked car or unattended suitcase, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead, be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye on your belongings.
Amongst the most common crimes reported on the Santa Monica Pier, violent crimes like fights or major burglaries are relatively uncommon. The most common crime reported around the Pier in Santa Monica are thefts from vehicles; ask any Santa Monica Police Officer and they will be quick to tell you that the vast majority of these thefts are a result of a flashy, expensive item like a camera or purse inadvertently left out on the seat of an unlocked car. Be sure to double check doors and windows after parking your car at the beach and place any loose items in a locked trunk.
Thefts of bicycles are also sadly common in every community across LA. Because many bike thefts go unreported, it’s difficult to know the exact extend of the problem, but the LA Times recently reported that over 200,000 bicycles were stolen nationwide in 2014. The Los Angeles Police Department encourages cyclists to use their locks correctly, only lock bikes to actual bike racks (so no railings or road signs), and to register your bike with bike recovery resources like the Bike Index. Biking is a very common (and fun) activity at Santa Monica State Beach. If renting a bike from one of the many bike shops in Santa Monica, be sure to use the provided lock when stopping to take photos, and never leave an unlocked bike unattended – not even just to dip into that shop for just 10 seconds.
Homelessness and individuals living on the street is not an uncommon sight in Los Angeles. For decades, free-spirits and vagabonds have flocked to Southern California where the temperate climate, access to resources, and relaxed prohibitions on living outside has fostered a sustained community of Angelenos who opt into the counter-culture of street life. Although not for everyone, living without an established home is not against the law. Visitors are cautioned to not give money or other hand outs to panhandlers or people asking for change. Often times, these requests are a scam or front, and the money rarely goes to providing a needed meal or bus fare; sometimes the loose change given to someone on the street will instead be spent on feeding an addiction. Santa Monica has many social services and resources for individuals seeking a place to sleep or hot meal. Based at the Santa Monica Pier, West Coast Care focuses on outreach, relationship building, and the reunification of homeless individuals with their families and close friends.
On very busy weekends at the Pier, opportunistic peddlers and con artists may show up at the Pier to sell unlicensed merchandise, food or beverages from non-permitted vending areas, or solicit tips or donations to non-existent causes and charities. Before spending any money, be sure to look for signs that the individual represents a licensed and legitimate business: is the food vending cart displaying a valid LA County Health permit (usually an 8×11” sheet with a big blue “A”); is the performer in a designated performance spot (marked with a white star on the ground); is the solicitor asking for cash only or acting in a “pushy” manner to get you to commit quickly?
The most common “scams” or “cons” at LA tourist destinations include: “independent and up-and-coming musicians” selling CDs of their music; “monks” or similar representatives from non-specific religious organizations offering free items like books or beads, then demanding a donation; non-licensed retail vendors selling bootleg t-shirts, cheaply made beach toys, or other questionable merchandise with no permit (you can easily identify these illegitimate businesses by the fact they do not offer receipts); and non-permitted food peddlers offering hot dogs, bottled beverages, or candies from push carts or trays (similarly, no receipts or health permits will be displayed). In addition to being a nuisance at high traffic destinations like the Santa Monica Pier, these businesses do not pay sales tax, pass health inspections, provide access for hand washing to their workers, or care if the people buying from them get sick from undercooked hot dogs or are ripped off by cheap merchandise.
Although Santa Monica Police officers will ask these types of scammers and opportunistic peddlers to leave or disperse, the attraction of making big bucks off unassuming visitors becomes a risk some eager hustlers are willing to take. Guests to the Santa Monica Pier and Beach are encouraged to only make purchases from legitimate businesses displaying valid business licenses and health inspections permits.
If visiting the Pier and you have a question regarding safety, visit the Santa Monica Police substation located midway on the Pier across from Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Uniformed police officers and Harbor Patrol Officers can be seen patrolling the pier, often times in their black and white LAPD pickup truck. Additionally, Pacific Park’s security team, identified by their bright yellow jackets, are available inside the amusement park.
Feature image courtesy of @m4urizio.