Senior Deputy Sheriff Greg Sorenson wears many hats, and you may have seen him in some of them.
As community resource deputy for the Goleta Division of the Sheriff’s office, Sorenson says his primary function is to help residents connect with the correct person to solve whatever is their problem, if it is outside his own authority. Sorenson works directly with Goletans on neighborhood issues, such as graffiti suppression and Neighborhood Watch crime prevention, as well as with local businesses.
Based at the Camino Real Marketplace Sheriff’s substation, near the multiplex movie theater, the tall, athletic Noleta resident also manages the office’s disposal program for expired medications, known as Operation Medicine Cabinet. The drop box is located inside the substation’s tiny lobby. It and a direct phone line to the Sheriff’s dispatcher are accessible ‘round the clock, whether or not an officer is present.
Sorenson is more likely to be found outdoors than at his desk on most days. Sometimes he can be spotted in a bicycle helmet cruising city streets, chatting up townspeople, or even checking out the area’s bikeways. The former U.S. Marine and surfer cheerfully admits he is drawn to the natural beauty of Goleta’s surroundings and enjoys most of the people he encounters.
While the public usually sees his fellow officers writing tickets or cornering a suspect, Sorenson seldom issues citations. “Essentially, I put a friendly face on law enforcement that a lot of people do not ordinarily see,” he notes.
Though he is a law enforcement officer and packs a service pistol, the University of California Santa Barbara graduate argues that his personal-relationship style of policing encourages citizens to participate in solving their own problems. “We (police officers) should be seen as partners in the community, helping to make it a safer, more viable place to live,” he says.
To that end, Sorenson joined with city officials last April to organize a Citizens Academy for Goletans, the first since the city was founded. A score of residents spent seven weeks getting an inside view of police training, forensic procedures, special unit operations (like SWAT and the dive teams), department history, and other information from the people who do the actual work.
He says the academy was a success, and he hopes to host a repeat performance next spring.
The growth of the residential Neighborhood Watch program, which encourages neighbors to get to know and look out for each other, has been even more satisfying to him. Sorenson, a 15-year veteran of the County Sheriff’s Department, became Goleta’s community resource officer in early 2011; he has expanded the watch program to its current strength in 18 neighborhoods.
Sorenson says the groups’ effectiveness varies, but generally they “are pretty strong, cohesive groups.” He says that “from a law enforcement perspective, it’s a really great thing to work with people in the community who actually care … (and) want to do the right thing.”
This viewpoint is reflected among his fellow officers, according to Sorenson. “We’re lucky to work in a community that supports us,” he says. “Pull any deputy off the street who works patrol, and they would probably say the same thing overall.”
As further evidence, Sorenson points to the long-term, citywide graffiti cleanup efforts of Ed Graper and his less-visible silent partners. “They are very proactive about cleaning up this stuff,” he says. “Half the time Ed is on top of it before we see it or even know about it.” And Graper has been erasing Goleta’s graffiti tags for at least the past 15 years.
Local involvement goes way beyond a job description for Sorenson, who participates in a baseball league and has had many roles in community theater productions. He has appeared on the stage of the Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara and that of the Unitarian Society, among others.
He and his wife are raising two children in the Goleta Valley and take comfort that, despite occasional wildfires and occupational brushes with malefactors, they are contributing to a community in which they want to live.
If you see the deputy out and about, feel free to relay a problem you have noticed or, better yet, ask him how to start a watch group in your neighborhood. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.