The Sheriff’s Department is in serious need of help. And that help must come from a new sheriff who is not part of the current infighting, public debacles, or divided loyalties now afflicting the department.
Police Chief Bill Brown fits the bill perfectly. He has the right mix of leadership skills, political savvy, and common sense. With 28 years’ experience as a law enforcement officer, 10 years as Lompoc police chief, Brown has proven to be tough, creative, shrewd, and compassionate. Chief Brown has reduced crime, built public trust, and recruited high-quality officers.
An innovative crime-fighter, Chief Brown obtained court injunctions barring known gang members from congregating in specified areas around Lompoc, becoming the only law officer in the county to do so. It proved a useful tool.
But Chief Bill Brown also knows how to combine the carrot with the stick. A genuine champion of community-oriented policing, he has built a remarkable rapport with Lompoc’s diverse ethnic, business, and agricultural communities, and has led an impressive fight against domestic violence and child abuse. When Chief Brown took over the Lompoc police force he confronted the same problem the Sheriff’s Department now faces: poor recruitment and high turnover. Brown worked within his limited resources to develop officers locally. Today, his department is at full strength, with a sizable waiting list.
Chief Brown enjoys widespread respect among law enforcement agencies throughout California. He has led both the state and Santa Barbara’s police chief associations, directed the regional narcotics enforcement team, and is a graduate of the FBI Academy.
Showing considerable political chops, Brown, a conservative Republican, garnered the endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly and many key Santa Barbara progressives while managing to convince a majority of California police chiefs to endorse former Democratic governor Jerry Brown — now mayor of Oakland — in his race for Attorney General.
By contrast, incumbent sheriff Jim Anderson has made political ineptitude a campaign virtue, repeating over and over, “I’m a cop, not a politician.” While we endorsed Anderson in the last election, we’ve been under-whelmed by his lack of judgment. On his watch, the Sheriff’s Council, which should be a community-based nonprofit raising funds to improve the department, has degenerated into a nasty food fight between the rich and richer. Although he ultimately changed his mind, Anderson agreed to put Chumash Casino stickers on sheriff’s search-and-rescue vehicles when he accepted a sizable tribal donation to the department. And what was he thinking when he suggested that local deputies and officers be given authority to enforce federal immigration laws? Every immigrant in the county would run from the sight of a uniform. How would this make anyone safer? Sheriff Anderson’s department is already understaffed and now he thinks his deputies should do the work of the immigration service?
Another candidate is Sheriff’s Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi, a straight-talking, hardworking, great cop for 37 years. But he is not a politician. After watching Sheriff Anderson stumble into one political fiasco after another, it is clear that political skills are as essential to the job as being an experienced law officer.
Then there is the candidacy of Jim Thomas, who was sheriff from 1990 to 2002. He unquestionably possesses the skill, experience, and authority to handle the job. But under his leadership the Sheriff’s Department became extremely politicized, especially during Board of Supervisor elections. Worse, after his retirement, he was a candidate in one of the nastiest political campaigns in county history. It’s too much old baggage.
The deputies of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department deserve to be led by a seasoned, professional law enforcement executive who has the savvy to find the monies and methods necessary to make our county safe without getting involved in polarizing politics. The man for the job is Chief Bill Brown. — Marianne Partridge Editor-in-Chief