Sheriff Bill Brown, after running unopposed for reelection in 2010, will face opposition from inside the department in 2014.
Sandra Brown (no relation to the sheriff) — who has worked in the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for 16 years — officially kicked off her candidacy Wednesday to be the county’s next (and first female) top cop, after months of movement behind the scenes positioning herself for the run.
In a scathing review of the sheriff’s tenure, Brown said in an interview Wednesday that her boss has failed to build rapport with his deputies and is a one-trick pony focused on building a new jail in North County. “He wants the title and he’s not doing the job,” she said.
Sandra Brown — who in 2008 was promoted to sergeant by the sheriff and currently serves as detective sergeant in the Special Investigations Bureau, which is the Coroner’s Office — said her boss has ignored crime and law enforcement trends. “He’s good with the status quo,” she said.
But she faces an uphill climb against an incumbent who is generally well-liked in the community. Sheriff Brown entered the 2006 race as an underdog against incumbent Sheriff Jim Anderson and Anderson’s predecessor, Jim Thomas. Brown came in second to Anderson in the primary, and the two faced off in the general election. At the time, the race was as much about getting Anderson out of office as it was about getting someone new in, and Brown was able to rally support from Thomas and others who saw Anderson as lacking leadership in a department where morale was plummeting.
Many of those same issues Anderson faced, Brown is now enduring. While generally well-liked in the community, some deputies in the department have not been as impressed by Brown’s time in office. Geoffrey Banks, a commander who recently retired and is supporting Sandra Brown, said none of the people he’s spoken to in the department support the current sheriff. “There’s a disconnect with people,” he said.
Others, however, say that’s not the role of the sheriff as a department head. He fights for the department at board meetings and represents public safety officials in securing state funding from Sacramento. The sheriff said he believes he has the support of the majority of people in the department.
And his department has seen its budget cut nearly every year he’s been in office. His department — now at 625 employees, the largest in the county — has undergone a 10 percent cut in staffing. “I’m very proud of the work that has been done by the men and working in the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. Since 2011, Brown, along with other public safety agencies including probation and the DA’s office, have had to deal with the repercussions of realignment, which has increased the burden on local law enforcement agencies.
Sheriff Brown said that despite delivering on campaign promises under tough conditions, work on issues related to crime and public safety remains to be done.
Though budget cuts have hit the department, Sandra Brown said, it can still move forward and work in a progressive manner on fighting crime. “I don’t want to complain; I want to do something,” she said.
The sheriff has proven to be an adept politician, which has helped him in many respects, perhaps most critically in his pursuit of a new North County jail. Brown has advanced the cause of a new North County jail further along than any of his three predecessors. He has secured the majority of the construction funding from the state, and he is currently working with the Board of Supervisors on a complicated scheme to have funds ready to operate the jail when it opens in 2017.
He was lauded for forming a blue ribbon commission shortly after taking office to take a close look at the jail. The commission was an impressive group of stakeholders from all over, including prison consultants, mental health professionals, representatives from Probation, County Counsel, and the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices. While some say Brown’s ability to move forward with the jail was a matter of being sheriff at the right time — when funding became available from the state — it wasn’t just handed to him on a platter.
Not every county pursued the funding, and some that did wound up not receiving the money for their projects. The process was very intensive and intricate, and Brown and his staff nimbly worked their way through it. “It was a result of teamwork,” Brown said. “Any successes I’ve had I give [the management team] credit, as well.”
The sheriff said he understands there have been morale issues, but many other counties are enduring the same problems, he said, because of budget cuts. “The employees have been dealing with significant issues,” he said, “but they’ve stepped up and delivered during the hard times.”
Sandra Brown, meanwhile, said there needs to be more focus on Isla Vista, where crime has gone up and the party scene has grown. Indeed, statistics from the Sheriff’s Department indicate violent crime incidents in Isla Vista jumped from 54 in 2005 and 69 in 2006 to 103 in 2011 and 93 in 2012. Sandra Brown said she wants to install lights along the cliffs in Isla Vista and said that when she worked as a senior deputy in Isla Vista, sexual assaults and keg sales decreased.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said he has endorsed Sandra Brown. “She’s great,” he said. “She’s smart. She sees so clearly the things that need to be done.”
His colleague, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, is in the sheriff’s corner. “He’s distinguished himself as a very competent public servant with public safety capability,” Carbajal said. District Attorney Joyce Dudley also said she is endorsing Sheriff Brown, who serves on the state’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission. Brown said that at the proper time he will be “mounting a vigorous campaign to retain my position.”