On the heels of the latest controversy to engulf the Santa Barbara Police Department — last week’s much-publicized beating of a suspected drunk driver in the Loreto Plaza parking lot — Mayor Helene Schneider suggested that Police Chief Cam Sanchez should start showing up at City Council meetings to deliver monthly or semi-monthly reports. “It’s gotten to the point that I get questions all the time about something involving the police — whether it’s gang injunctions or crime stats or the homeless,” Schneider said. “I think it would be a good thing for the community, and it would give the chief a way he could address all seven of us at the same time.”
Currently, the chief regularly addresses the Fire and Police Commission. But that commission meets in the basement of the Police Department in a bunker-like room, and is attended by only a few members of the public, usually those with an ax to grind with the SBPD. By contrast, Schneider said, City Council meetings would provide a much better venue. Schneider denied her suggestion came in direct response to the controversy surrounding the Loreto Plaza incident, in which a lone officer tazed a noncooperative suspect — he walked away from his vehicle — 13 times. Schneider acknowledged that 13 “sounds like a lot,” but shied away from commenting on the case without knowing all the facts. “There are always a lot of questions about the department, but in recent months there have been even more,” she said.
Indeed, it’s been a very rocky stretch for the chief and his department. An officer assigned to the drunk-driving detail has been the subject of regular front page articles in the Santa Barbara News-Press, accusing her of personal corruption and official zealotry in the line of duty. Sanchez did himself no favors by placing his hat in the ring for the top cop spot of San Bernardino without notifying council members or City Administrator Jim Armstrong first. Much media attention was given to that. The Police Officers Association has also sponsored a series of political endorsement ads on TV, warning that public safety will be jeopardized if three incumbent councilmembers — Dale Francisco, Randy Rowse, and Michael Self — are reelected. Francisco countered by accusing the union of selling out public safety in exchange for higher wages. Nor has it helped that a senior employee in the department’s business office was accused of embezzling up to $1 million from the parking-ticket fund. And there remains an abiding controversy over a proposed gang injunction, still winding its way through the judicial process.
Schneider launched her proposal without checking with Chief Sanchez, Administrator Jim Armstrong, or any of her council colleagues first. To get the idea before the council for consideration, Schneider will need the support of at least one fellow councilmember.