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Santa Barbara Police Make Progress Toward Positive Change

Little to No Excess in Use of Force but Department Working on De-escalation Philosophy


As a Santa Barbara resident for 23 years and founder and collaborative coordinator of the Restorative Community Network, I want to take this time to express my support of the Santa Barbara Police Department. It is my vocation and passion to advocate for the use of restorative practices in the justice system, education, human services, and community engagement. As a community psychologist, I promote collaborative partnerships to address the complex social issues at the source of community challenges.

Restorative practices is a social science that studies the process of strengthening relationships between individuals and social connections within communities. The use of restorative practice aids in reducing crime, improves individual and social well-being, strengthens relationships and civil society, and provides effective leadership.

I write this letter after attending the Santa Barbara City Council meeting on April 10, 2018, where the meeting opened with Public Comment questioning the S.B. Police Department’s Use of Force policy update. In the same meeting, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow provided a comprehensive report of the department’s undertakings including a report on the Use of Force policy revisions.

Chief Luhnow reported that the department recorded 74,851 contacts in 2017, averaging 205 contacts per day, or approximately 8 per hour. Of those contacts 7,913 resulted in arrests (10.5 percent), of which 146 (1.8 percent) required some level of force — most of which necessitated body weight for restraint. One incident of force was reported to the Department of Justice as per AB 71, which requires reporting of incidences that involve great bodily harm. The incident reported involved an officer who was injured in the line of duty. According to the 2017 Police Violence Report, there was no record of excessive use of force at the SBPD, whereas, the Santa Barbara Sheriff Department listed 2 civilian deaths at the hands of Sheriff’s officers. While, I would prefer to see a report without great bodily harm to civilians or police officers, this report clearly demonstrates the SBPD is not experiencing excessive use of force and the department continues to make strides toward positive changes.

The recruitment and hiring process of Chief Lori Luhnow was a conscious choice on behalf of the city to move from a “Broken Windows” (Wilson & Kelling, 1982) model of policing, with a focus on disorder and deficit, to a “Community Oriented Policing” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014) model, which empowers officers to develop positive relationships with the community. Chief Luhnow stated that the department is effectively practicing a “de-escalation model” through a comprehensive approach which incorporates a new philosophy, assessment, policy, training, reporting, and auditing, creating a department that “treats people fairly.”

Healthy civic engagement requires thorough monitoring of the SBPD with the goal of ensuring community safety. The process of updating policies is more than words printed on a document, it requires transforming a culture to reflect the practices and philosophy of the department to emphasize the use of de-escalation and community partnership. It requires a pace that reflects a “speed of trust” (Convey, 2006). The SBPD is actively partnering with diverse community groups, recognizing that when we are able to reach a place of trust we are more likely to take risks together, to see greater opportunities, and respond to challenges in informed and coordinated ways. With trust, we are willing to dig into disagreements, challenge our assumptions and beliefs, and have the kind of courageous conversations that can lead to breakthroughs and true policy in practice changes.

The purpose of the letter is not to disregard the important issues that Equity for Santa Barbara brings into dialogue. It is clear that the department has areas for improvement, such as the continual hiring of local officers who reflect the diversity and demographics of our community, continued community engagement, and efforts towards public department updates. However, I am pleased with the department’s effort to institutionalize Community Oriented Policing and develop a Use of Force and de-escalation policy in practice that reflect the department’s philosophy rather than an emblematic document that is not enforced.

I encourage you to review the SBPD’s message on the department’s Use of Force Policy and send your questions or concerns to UseOfForceComments@sbpd.com. The Chief’s Advisory Panel reflects a diverse group of well-respected community members. The cepartment is undergoing a comprehensive implicit bias training through Just Communities, and restorative dialogue is taking place with critical community groups on a regular basis. If you are interested in taking an active role in shaping the practice and policies of the Santa Barbara Police Department, please consider sending a note to the email above.

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