Short answer: Quite possibly, based on studies done in Los Angeles and other areas


West Hollywood is spending $2 million this fiscal year on “security ambassadors.” They patrol Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and selected residential streets. The City says the security ambassadors (we’re quoting here):

  • Provide a highly visible uniform presence at the street level to serve as a visual deterrent
  • Report unwanted activity
  • Challenge low level quality of life crimes
  • Work in collaboration with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station

The City believes that the security ambassadors have had a “positive impact on safety and neighborhood livability.” The City isn’t necessarily claiming that they reduce the number of crimes like theft or robbery. But do they?

Security ambassadors’ main activities

The City provides reports on the security ambassadors’ activities. In fiscal year 2018, they rode 37,000 miles on bike patrols. FY2018 ran from July 2017 to June 2018.

The most common reported activity was assisting pedestrians. It’s a broad category. It can mean providing directions, recommendations, or other information. It can even mean helping someone with a door. The security ambassadors assisted about 47,000 pedestrians in FY2018. That’s roughly 130 a day. They also provided one safety escort a week and helped one motorist per week.

Sources: City of West Hollywood, semi-annual public-safety reports; our analysis.

The second biggest category was contacts with businesses. The security ambassadors did that about 30,000 times in FY2018, which works out to over 80 contacts a day.

In FY2018, the safety ambassadors also logged almost 2,700 contacts with homeless individuals. That’s roughly seven per day. It’s also the highest number from the four years of data we have.

Sources: Same as above.

Calls for service

People are asking for the security ambassadors more and more often. They call about a range of issues, such as trespassing or suspicious activity. The number of calls for service grew from roughly 430 in FY2015 to 2,400 in FY2018. That’s a 460% jump in three years. It suggests that an increasing number of residents and businesses view the security ambassadors as an effective way to deal with a safety or livability concern.

The volume of calls for service is lower but of the same order of magnitude as fire department calls: 2,400 versus 7,100 in FY2018. We don’t know how many calls the sheriff’s department responds to, but they reported roughly 6,600 criminal and non-criminal incidents in 2016.

Sources: Same as above.

The numbers for the security ambassadors include 37 “Request[s] for Fire/Police/EMS” in FY2018, less than one a week. We assume that means requests from the security ambassadors to the fire and sheriff’s departments.

Sources: Same as above.

Effect on crime in West Hollywood

Once we quantified the security ambassadors’ level of effort, we looked for a clear relationship between that effort and the volume of serious crimes. We thought we might see fewer reported “Part 1” violent and property crimes in the six-month periods with more bike patrols and more crimes in the periods with fewer patrols.

However, we didn’t find a statistically significant relationship between the security ambassadors’ level of effort and the number of crimes. We tried different measures of effort and different crimes, including robbery, assault, and theft.

The lack of an obvious relationship can be seen in the chart below. It compares the number of bike miles ridden by the ambassadors to total Part 1 crimes. There is no clear way to draw a line through the data points.

Sources: Same as above.

We realized that testing the impact of security ambassadors on crime would require a serious statistical study and a much bigger sample — bigger than West Hollywood. So we looked for such studies in other geographies. We found three from Los Angeles, New Orleans, and southwestern England. All three studies found a beneficial relationship between security patrols and crime.

Evidence from Los Angeles

In one study, researchers measured changes in violent crime linked to the creation of 30 business improvement districts (BIDs) over a decade in Los Angeles. One of the ways BIDs can reduce crime is by hiring private security patrols like West Hollywood’s security ambassadors. In fact, West Hollywood’s Sunset BID paid for security ambassadors until the City took over that role.

The researchers compared crime before and after a BID was established in each area, adjusting for citywide changes in crime. They focused on robbery, because it’s typically stranger-on-stranger, often public, and usually reported (therefore measurable).

The study found that implementation of a BID was associated, on average, with a statistically-significant 12% reduction in robberies and an 8% reduction in violent crime overall. We say “associated with” because causation is hard to prove. The estimates for BIDs close to West Hollywood were 34% fewer robberies in Larchmont Village, 15% in the Hollywood Media District, and 9% in the Hollywood Entertainment District.

Source: John MacDonald (University of Pennsylvania) et al., “The effect of business improvement districts on the incidence of violent crimes,” Injury Prevention, 2010.

The study didn’t break out the crime-prevention effect of security patrols versus other BID activities. However, the authors did see a pattern in the BID-by-BID numbers. BIDs that invested heavily in private security and other crime-prevention techniques were among those with the biggest reductions in robberies. For example, the reductions were 27% in the Century Corridor, 20% in the Figueroa Corridor, and 15% in the Hollywood Media District.

Evidence from New Orleans

New Orleans has special districts that levy taxes to provide extra patrols beyond what the police department normally provides. About 60% of the patrols are by private security guards, the rest by police officers. The city analyzed the effectiveness of the districts by comparing crime rates in the districts to those outside.

“Security district presence was significantly associated with a reduction of 23 percent relative to the average property crime rate, if all else was held equal.”

Source: City of New Orleans, Office of Inspector General, “Review of New Orleans Security Taxing Districts,” 2013.

The city found that property crime was 23% lower in the special districts than would otherwise be expected. The effect was statistically significant. It was limited to the areas with the extra patrols — in other words, it didn’t benefit adjacent areas. The analysis also looked at violent crime, but didn’t find a statistically significant effect.

Evidence from England

Researchers in England constructed a real-life experiment to test the effect of security patrols on crime. They sent unarmed security guards on extra patrols in randomly selected train stations. Then they measured whether crime went up or down in those stations compared to stations that didn’t get the extra security guards. They separately measured crimes that involve a victim (e.g., theft) from those that are discovered by police (e.g., drug possession).

“Analyses show that 41% more patrol visits and 29% more minutes spent by security agents at treatment compared to control stations led to a significant 16% reduction in victim-generated crimes at the entirety of the stations’ complexes”

Source: Barak Ariel (University of Cambridge) et al., “‘Lowering the threshold of effective deterrence’ — Testing the effect of private security agents in public spaces on crime: A randomized controlled trial in a mass transit system,” PLoS ONE, 2017.

The study found that extra security patrols in a station reduced the number of victim crimes for the station as a whole, compared to stations that didn’t get the extra patrols. There was a 16% reduction overall, 22% for thefts, and 31% for crimes against persons.

For crimes discovered by police, the number actually went up 49% in areas with extra patrols. We assume that’s because the security guards called in the police when they saw something suspicious. WarrenPerformance (effectiveness)Performance (effort)Public safetycrime
Short answer: Quite possibly, based on studies done in Los Angeles and other areas| West Hollywood is spending $2 million this fiscal year on 'security ambassadors.' They patrol Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and selected residential streets. The City says the security ambassadors (we're quoting here): Provide a highly visible...