Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez is one of two finalists in the running to become chief of the City of San Bernardino. The news, part of an email he sent to SBPD members late Wednesday evening, came as a shock to the department and city officials who didn’t know the Inland Empire community was actively courting Sanchez. “It certainly caught us by surprise,” said Eric Beecher, Police Officers Association (POA) president.
Sanchez’s message forewarned that a news article would be published the next day with information about his potential move. Before anyone got the wrong idea, Sanchez explained, he wanted to make clear that San Bernardino’s mayor tapped him as a candidate. He hadn’t been actively looking for a new job, he said, though he found the mayor’s outreach “interesting.”
Sanchez, S.B. chief for 11 years, interviewed for the opening a few weeks ago when there were four other candidates. Rumors swirled about the sit-down, but Sanchez assured his colleagues during a supervisors meeting days later that he “wasn’t going anywhere” and that he planned on staying in town “for a long time.” In his Wednesday email, Sanchez also noted that the timing of his prospecting may seem convenient as the department fends off recent suggestions of misconduct and misplaced priorities. He promised, however, that his talks with San Bernardino weren’t spurred by the SBPD’s troubles.
The cloudy summer began in June when the chief announced — to an army of invited media — that he was reopening the 50-year-old cold case of Ramona Price. Cadaver dogs and excavation crews sniffed and scratched around the old Winchester Canyon Overpass, where authorities believed Price was buried after she was killed, but had little to show for their week of work overseen by uniformed officers and on-duty detectives.
More recently, the department was forced to distance itself from one of its own when Karen Flores — a longtime office supervisor in charge of collecting and processing parking ticket money — was arrested for purportedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in citation revenue into her private bank account. Flores’s arrest comes on the heels of corruption allegations lobbed at DUI officer Kasi Beutel by freelance journalist (and DUI suspect) Peter Lance in a series of News-Press articles.
Mix all that with a cramped, outdated headquarters in desperate need of replacement (though no one knows how to pay for the $50 million project), the force’s popular reality show, On Patrol, nearly getting scrapped to Sanchez’s dismay because of late payments to City Hall, and public head-butts between the chief and the POA over staffing and salaries, and it’s easy to see why some would view Sanchez’s negotiations with San Bernardino as an opportunity to leave those sticky situations behind.
If Sanchez is picked for the job and takes it, his salary would increase from just under $200,000 a year to $237,000. San Bernardino’s current police chief, Keith Kilmer, announced his retirement in March after two years at the helm. Curious why The Independent would show an interest in his talks of transfer when nothing has been finalized, the chief said he’s still very much on the fence about his next move. “I haven’t been asked yet, and even if I were asked, I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “I may wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘Nah, this isn’t what I want to do.’ But it’s a family decision and I haven’t even talked with all the girls yet.”
Sanchez said he’s not just thinking money. Asked about his other considerations, he responded, “I don’t know. If I knew the answer to that, I would have already decided what to do next.” Sanchez saw no issue with Peter Lance — who’s been a pebble in the department’s shoe since his Beutel exposé grabbed headlines — publicly breaking the news to his troops about his finalist status. Sanchez said he has no control over who writes what for the News-Press, and that he doesn’t read the paper. “It’s no skin off my nose,” he said.
The POA’s Eric Beecher said that, should Sanchez leave, Deputy Chief Frank Mannix would likely assume an interim leadership role until a replacement was found. The headhunting process, Beecher explained, would involve a general POA membership meeting to determine the department’s options, and likely a nationwide search conducted by an outside company. “I’ll be interested to talk to [Sanchez] to see what his intentions are,” said Beecher.