After 30 years working for the Sheriff’s Office — a career that has involved working on the SWAT team that backed up the Secret Service for President Ronald Reagan, serving as the first Chief of Police for the City of Goleta, and helping coordinate the manhunt for Jesse James Hollywood in South America — Undersheriff Don Patterson officially retired from the department on November 7. Until his permanent replacement is found, Patterson will be staying on as extra help.
Although he made his departure plans known before he assumed his second-in-command position in October 2013, Patterson said that leaving isn’t going to be easy. “It’s really emotional. Every time I talk about it, I almost break down,” he said. “This department is my family. This is probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I’m a firm believer in not staying too long at the party.”
After graduating from Cal State Long Beach in 1977 with a degree in criminal justice, Patterson — a native of San Diego — worked as a deputy in the San Diego County Jail. In 1979, he transferred to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, where he started as a patrol deputy. Until 1992 — when he switched gears for five years to do law enforcement-related consulting and university teaching — Patterson’s tenure at the Sheriff’s Office intersected with several moments in both regional and international history. In 1981, as a member of the SWAT team, he witnessed the protests over Diablo Canyon. In 1988, not long before the Tiananmen Square protests, he was one of 10 officers to lead law-enforcement training presentations over a three-week period in China. In 1990 — the same year he received his Ph.D. from the Fielding Institute — Patterson was picked to be a member of the United States delegation to the first Moscow Conference on Law and Economic Cooperation in Russia.
When he rejoined the Sheriff’s Office in 1997, Patterson quickly rose through the ranks, moving from senior deputy to sergeant to lieutenant in a few years’ time. Another few years saw him transition to commander of the department’s Special Operations Division and then of the Criminal Investigations Division. He was promoted again in 2009 to oversee custody operations at the Santa Barbara County Jail, and before assuming the undersheriff position last fall, he was managing all law enforcement-related activities for the department. In his penultimate role, Patterson earned approximately $178,400 a year; as undersheriff, his salary jumped to $197,100.
A graduate of the FBI National Academy — a “lifelong goal,” he said — Patterson has been honored by his department on several occasions, including in 2009 when he received the Sheriff’s Meritorious Service Award for his leadership in coordinating response efforts to the Zaca, Gap, Tea, and Jesusita fires. Sheriff Bill Brown, who quickly appointed Patterson undersheriff following Jim Peterson’s scandalous exit last year, thanked his right-hand man for his “long and distinguished public-safety career.”
“His reliability, dedication, department knowledge, and keen intellect are second-to-none,” Brown said. “Don’s even-tempered personality and his remarkable understanding of organizational management make him a model team player and collaborator, both inside and outside our agency.” Continuing, Brown commended Patterson for doing “an absolutely superb job” as undersheriff and said he will “always be grateful for the dedication and loyalty Don has shown to me, to the Sheriff’s Office, and to the people of Santa Barbara County.”
As for retirement, Patterson said the plan — at least for a little while — is to have no plan. “I’m not making any decisions until at least January,” he said, laughing. “I’m putting it all in the hopper and seeing if I can handle taking it easy.” Possible next steps include returning to university teaching — he taught classes in conflict resolution at Chapman University from 1996 to 2011 — and helping with federal and state emergency-response trainings.
Patterson said he is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 34 years, who he met in 1979 while on a work call. Avid cruisers, the two, who live in Goleta, will be traveling around the Caribbean in the spring. Around that same time, Patterson will be celebrating his 60th birthday. In reflecting on his career, he said what he will miss most are the people and the camaraderie. “It’s just been wonderful,” he said. “If I was five years younger, I’d look forward to staying five years longer.”