Opinion: Have WeHo’s Block by Block Security Ambassadors Gone Rogue?

I’m a seven-year West Hollywood resident and part-time freelance news photographer. This past Saturday morning, during the course of gathering news, I overheard a radio transmission from a West Hollywood Security Ambassador. The Ambassador alleged he was punched in the face by a man on the street and was bleeding from his mouth.

Upon arrival to the scene on San Vicente near Santa Monica Boulevard, I witnessed several Ambassadors dog-piled on top of a man on the ground. As soon as cameras arrived, the Ambassadors got up from on top of the man and moved a couple steps away. When the Ambassadors moved away, I noticed the man’s hands were handcuffed behind his back.

There was no Sheriff’s deputy on the scene and I later confirmed with the Sheriff’s Department that it never received a telephone call for assistance. A deputy was only flagged down after cameras arrived to the scene. A witness to the initial incident told a colleague on the scene the Ambassadors attempted to intervene in a dispute between a man and his boyfriend, requesting the pair split up and walk in opposite directions. A physical confrontation ensued, and the man, who was obviously impaired, was allegedly thrown to the ground and handcuffed by Ambassadors.

The man on the ground appeared to have injuries consistent with being in a physical altercation. None of the Ambassadors appeared injured, and only the handcuffed man was transported by ambulance to a local area hospital for medical treatment. I contacted the Sheriff’s Department and the watch sergeant confirmed the handcuffed man was not arrested. Video of the incident appears to show the handcuffed man on the ground kicking the Ambassadors who are attempting to restrain him.

A few days prior, a colleague sent me a photo taken in the early morning hours of Nov. 1 depicting a handful of Ambassadors riding unrestrained in the back of the Ambassador pickup truck on Melrose Avenue. This action is incredibly unsafe and illegal. The Ambassadors were headed back to their command center after providing assistance for the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival, a festival where thousands of people come to West Hollywood to drink and party. I’m glad a DUI driver did not hit their vehicle. I’ve been to accident scenes where vehicle occupants are ejected because they are unrestrained, and these accident scenes are often very graphic and gruesome.

West Hollywood Security Ambassadors leaving Halloween Carnaval on Oct. 31, 2017 (Photo by Jim Garrecht / ANG News)

This is not my first time filming an encounter with West Hollywood’s Ambassadors. I’ve witnessed the Ambassadors interact with residents, visitors and homeless people in the City of West Hollywood. During these interactions I noticed a disturbing pattern. The Ambassadors attempt to enforce West Hollywood municipal code by requesting the homeless move off the public sidewalk. In response, the homeless will move from in front of local businesses, which are patrolled by the Ambassadors, to an adjacent residential area that is not patrolled by the Ambassadors. In these same residential areas, I’ve witnessed our city’s homeless urinate and defecate in alleys and in yards of residents on the Eastside of our city.

In 2015, I captured dash-cam video of the Ambassador vehicle from the former Sunset Strip Business Association stopped behind an alleged DUI driver on Sunset Boulevard at Hammond. The Ambassadors called the Sheriff’s Department, which responded to the scene. I later confirmed with the Sheriff’s Department that no arrest was made.

Also in 2015, I noticed the Ambassador bicycles prominently displayed the word “POLICE” on the bicycle. At that time, I sent an email to the Sheriff’s Department, the City of West Hollywood and to David Aguilar, operations manager of the Ambassador Program. The word POLICE on the bicycles was immediately removed. In a response email, David Aguilar claimed the word POLICE was actually the name of the model of the bicycle.

block by block security ambassadors
(Photo by Jim Garrecht / ANG News)

Encounters with the Ambassadors attempting to enforce citylaws are not isolated. In 2014, an Ambassador stood between my vehicle and the street, blocking my exit, while attempting to enforce West Hollywood parking regulations. I was waiting for someone to come out of a local business on Santa Monica Boulevard at San Vicente, and unintentionally pulled into a vacant taxi zone on Santa Monica. The Ambassador approached my vehicle almost immediately after I stopped. He made his way to the driver side window and requested I leave, using vulgar language. I asked him for his name, which he did not provide, so I pulled out my cell phone and started recording. I’m not sure how the Ambassador wanted me to leave, as I would have needed to run him over with my vehicle in order to vacate the parking spot. I vacated the parking spot immediately after the Ambassador moved to a safe location. As I departed the parking space, the Ambassador hit a rear window of my vehicle. For the record, I never cursed at him as he alleges in the video. A few days after this incident happened in 2014, I provided the video footage to Kristin Cook, Public Safety director for the City of West Hollywood and expressed in an email my concern that the Ambassadors were attempting to enforce municipal laws.

It’s time to ask some questions regarding the Ambassador Program. Why do the Ambassadors have a repeated pattern of attempting to enforce laws? Why was law enforcement not immediately contacted when a man on the street was allegedly thrown to the ground and placed into handcuffs by Ambassadors? Why does a contractor for the City of West Hollywood put its employees’ safety in jeopardy by allowing them to ride unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck? How often are physical detentions, like the one captured early Saturday morning, really happening?

The City of West Hollywood contracts with Block by Block for Security Ambassador services, but what service does the Ambassador Program actually provide? Are the Ambassadors trained and authorized to enforce the West Hollywood Municipal Code? Are they trained and authorized to enforce parking restrictions? Are they trained to tackle and handcuff citizens on the street? How extensive and what type of training is provided to the Ambassadors? What kind of liability does the City of West Hollywood have after the Ambassadors handcuff a man who was ultimately never arrested? Why is there a pattern of the Ambassadors trying to enforce the law even after this type of behavior was reported to City of West Hollywood officials?

I’ve heard from West Hollywood residents who are supportive of Block by Block, and I’ve met with David Aguilar, operations manager for the Ambassador Program. I believe there are good intentions, but it may be time to revisit the West Hollywood Security Ambassador Program. We need to ensure that the City of West Hollywood, the Sheriff’s Department, Block by Block and the citizens of West Hollywood are clear on the services provided and the limitations on the actions of the Ambassadors and ensure that everyone involved is treated equitably. The Block by Block website features Ambassadors in other cities sweeping streets and cleaning graffiti. Maybe it is time to put our West Hollywood Ambassadors to a better use by cleaning up our city rather than becoming a rogue mini police force.


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Manny
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Manny

@Stu-Stu…..I know many of us on the west side would like to see more of these Ambassadors in our side of town.

Cino
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Cino

This is the Walmart version of the police force we were promised 35 years ago when this city was formed. It turned into a big lie once city dollars were redirected to fat salaries.

Taynay Cameron
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Taynay Cameron

There are a few things missing in this article. Although the Ambassadors are given a “little “ credit for the good they do it is very one sided. They are faced with several drunk citizens, spit on, have to deal with the rapid drug situation in West Hollywood, receive racial threats, and even harassed and followed by members of your blog. . Often the Sheriff Department does not respond to their calls because they are seemed as “low priority”. If you are going to report you have to weigh in all the facts not paint a picture that the people… Read more »

B
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B

They seem to have watched American Horror Story: Cult.

Vigilantes & Mercenaries
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Vigilantes & Mercenaries

Carl Cronin published the only truly credible POV about this subject. We seem to be living in a culture of many people’s “right” to express their anger and discontent by engaging in the mistreatment of others. Putting an “ambassador” label on folks with this mind set is a false sense of security to the general public. Self styled independent and/or collective vigilantes or mercenaries in the larger context, can have little positive result. This is a virus that undermines the well being of all citizens.

Stu-Stu
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Stu-Stu

I have had nothing but positive encounters with the Security Ambassadors. I live on the east side of West Hollywood wearing your La Brea and we frequently have issues there with well basically people who are extremely illicit drugs or clearly mentally ill or are intent on Vandalism. I have called as well as texted these fine men and women and they’ve always responded promptly And professionally. I have even had to flag them down as they bicycledby me because I just witnessed an issue they needed to deal with They are sorely needed and maybe there are some issues… Read more »

erik
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erik

I worked with the DA’s office and the Department of Justice to get BID (Business improvement District) Patrol to stop beating the homeless in Hollywood. It took five years and now they cannot patrol the streets. Private Security is the worse possible thing a City can do. They have no arrest power, they only can call the Police. Weho can be sued for hundreds of millions of dollars if the private security acts improperly.

Lopez
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Lopez

Good job Ambassadors . You guys are doing great. Reporter says a lot of things but nothing is on film? Just trying to make you guys look bad. I’m pretty sure you guys did not “Dog pile” him haha. Keep up the great work

Webuiltthiscity
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Webuiltthiscity

I have had an encounter with the Security Ambassadors first hand. They knocked me to the ground and as described in this article tackled then piled on top of my 2 friends on the street while handcuffing them. Nothing illegal happened and false charges were filed for stealing their flashlight. My friends ended up in the hospital and jail (later released – Sheriff didn’t keep 1, the other stayed in the hospital, handcuffed to bed). Over 2 years and $100,000’s of medical and legal fees the record was final expunged. In my first hand experience, these testosterone enraged gorillas need… Read more »

fine7760
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These so called Ambassadors are just another gang of “Rent a Cops” who number one could never be hired by a law enforcement agency and number two get off attempting to order people around. Their most visible presents is when the bars are closing down with them blocking traffic and flashing their flashlights in motorist faces. While they are in abundance on Santa Monic Bl and Robertson Bl. in front of the Abby their absence on La Peer where traffic is backed up well past 3AM is questionable. I do not know how many times I have observed “Rent A… Read more »

Jim Nasium
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Jim Nasium

From everything I read in this article, it looks like the Ambassadors are doing a great job.

Keep up the good work!

carleton cronin
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carleton cronin

The city must inform its citizens what powers it has allowed the private security firm acting as “ambassadors”. If they are an adjunct to our sheriff or merely a private police force for the commercial entities in WEHO. Private police, going back in time to the founding of the Pinkerton Agency, have always been a problem because their roles have never been well-defined, eventually “take matters into their own hands” and work for profit, seldom for the public good. Caveat emptor!