The Santa Monica Police Department has proposed to increase the security presence at popular tourist locations in the city after three people were photographed taking video of the Santa Monica Pier in a suspicious manner, police said.
Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. held a press conference Wednesday, August 10th, to inform the public that the police department plans to heighten security as a “pre-emptive measure against any potential terrorism threats or other security breaches.”
City officials had not been informed by any federal, state or county agency that a threat has been made against the city, police said.
Butts said police received a call Friday, July 22nd, from someone who had taken photographs of three men, described as Middle Eastern, who were videotaping around the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding area Saturday, July 3rd, in a manner “inconsistent with tourist documentary.”
The person had photographed the three men allegedly videotaping various structures of the pier, including pier pilings and the police substation, Santa Monica Police Lt. Frank Fabrega said.
The person told police that the men appeared suspicious because they did not appear in their own video as a tourist typically would.
“It was not in a manner that conforms to the daily operations of the average person,” Fabrega said of the men’s reported behavior.
The person had held on to the pictures, but decided to turn them in to police following the terrorist attacks in London in which three underground trains and a bus were bombed.
Police have identified the three men in the photographs, but they are not in police custody and have not been charged, Fabrega said.
After subsequent investigation with federal agencies and other local law enforcement agencies, police said authorities have determined that the same three men were also seen allegedly taking suspicious video in two other communities.
As a result of ongoing international terrorism activities, Santa Monica police propose to take additional steps to “increase police visibility” at various locations throughout the city, including the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade.
“It’s important that when information is received we do something to ensure the safety in this community,” Fabrega said.
Santa Monica police plan to boost security measures, such as having additional police resources and personnel on the Santa Monica Pier and other “key areas” within the city, Fabrega said.
Other proposed security measures include the installation of security cameras in highly-frequented tourist areas such as the pier and Third Street Promenade.
The police department also plans to acquire additional resources for police K-9 units, including bomb-sniffing dogs and canine handlers, Fabrega said.
The proposed boost in security measures for the city is estimated to cost about $2 million, city officials said. The security cameras, which cost about $1.1 million, are expected to be the most expensive measure, said Judy Rambeau, city spokeswoman.
Fabrega said the additional resources and deployment of police personnel will be a “deterrent” for potential terrorist activity in the city.
Butts met with the Santa Monica City Council during a closed session Tuesday, August 9th, to inform council members of the proposed increase in security.
Mayor pro tem Herb Katz said council members were informed about the July 3rd incident in which the three men videotaped the Santa Monica pier, and the council has taken the incident very seriously.
While Katz said he was curious why the photographed men were allegedly looking at the pier pilings, he was also concerned that the men were allegedly engaging in the same suspicious activity in other locations.
“We need to be sure that we’ve done what we can do in a proactive manner to protect our citizens and tourists,” Katz said. “This is a wide open city and a destination city and it’s prudent that we react that way.”
Butts said the police department will continue to be proactive to reinforce security at public areas that attract large crowds so visitors “will be comfortable coming to Santa Monica and enjoying all that we have to offer.”
“As information is brought forward we will continue to notify the community and will continue to take a proactive role,” Fabrega said.
Police encourage citizens who witness any suspicious activity to report it to the police department.
Citizens can visit the Santa Monica police Web site at www.smpd.org, or call the police department community relations unit at (310) 458-8474, for more information on homeland security.