After 32 years of working in virtually all phases of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and over 2,700 hours of specialized California Police Officer Standards and Training I am prepared and knowledgeable to lead our Sheriff’s department. My progressive values include supporting, not deporting, our immigrant neighbors, sensible gun laws such as the Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) to protect our communities, bringing the “peace” back into peace officer, training our officers in Crisis Intervention and how to better address people with mental health and substance abuse issues, and implicit bias training.
We need to rebuild the trust in our Sheriff’s department, which will assist our deputies with recruitment, and increase retention of our most valuable resource, our deputies. Our Santa Barbara community needs and deserves new energy, experience, skills, and motivation to make the necessary changes. From patrol to teaching academy recruits and new officers, and from crisis intervention training to my current position as Solvang and Buellton’s Police Chief, I have learned what’s needed to succeed in the job from the ground up, not the top down.
The county has finally found funding for the construction of a North County jail, badly needed to reduce overcrowding and improve security and conditions at our existing jail. Ironically, the challenge now is for our Sheriff’s Office to make important changes to avoid filling and overfilling both the new and existing jail.
The reasons we must step up to this challenge are simple. First, the more people in jail, the higher the cost to taxpayers of staffing, supplying, and supporting it. Second, there are social costs. As a humane society, jailing people who are homeless or have drug abuse, mental, or physical challenges should be our very last resort.
Too many individuals sit in our jails waiting for their day in court. Every day in jail is a punishment before conviction of any crime. They and their families suffer from separation and loss of income. Employers suffer from loss of productivity.
Because too many people in jail raise operating costs, jail funding diverts the Sheriff’s Office from its primary mission of protecting public safety and preventing and solving crimes. The more personnel running the jail, the fewer are available on the street.
We must significantly reduce the number of people in our jails, more humanely treat those incarcerated, save taxpayer dollars, and invest in actions to keep Santa Barbara County residents safer.
We’ll start by better training our officers in how to de-escalate situations and reduce the need for the use of force before an arrest is required. We’ll provide training in alternatives to arrest and incarceration when dealing with the homeless and people with substance abuse and mental-health issues. This matters because a third of our calls involve people with mental illness. And we’ll educate officers about the Gun Violence Restraining Order, allowing us to remove guns from people who are a danger to themselves or others.
Second, we’ll step up efforts to shorten jail stays, with increased coordination with social service agencies that are ready and expert in dealing with the homeless and incarcerated people with substance abuse and mental health issues. Decreasing jail time decreases operating costs.
Third, we’ll replace our outmoded electronic reporting system. Today’s system too often delays Sheriff reports being sent to district attorneys, resulting in unnecessary continuances. That means people awaiting court appearances stay in jail longer, impacting their lives, their families’ lives, and increasing jail operating costs.
Fourth, I support bail reform. Too many people who are not a threat to the community nor a flight risk are in jail because they can’t make bail before trial and appeals. The current system too often unfairly bases a person’s freedom on money, not the public’s safety.
I believe we should enforce California law that gives the sheriff discretion to not report people to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they are undocumented and arrested for nonviolent offenses. Reporting such offenders, forces the Sheriff’s Office to hold the person in jail until ICE takes over; this turns our office into an immigration enforcement unit. It diverts deputies from their primary mission of keeping the public safe. Our public safety mission is much harder if we reduce residents’ willingness to report crimes or come forward as witnesses out of fear for what might happen to them or someone they know.
The savings gained by reducing incarceration will be used to do a much better job recruiting and retaining officers, improving employee morale and most importantly by building community trust.
Change is needed at the Sheriff’s Office, change that a clean slate and new energy focused on the needs and interests of all our diverse communities will bring about.
Eddie Hsueh is a candidate for the office of Sheriff for Santa Barbara County.