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.
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.
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.