Expressing frustration that none of the candidates now running for the Santa Barbara City Council are adequately addressing issues of public safety, the Police Officers Association (POA) sent a mailer to voters conveying their exasperation with leadership of the department over the past 14 years. It lamented the decline in morale, not to mention the number of cops on patrol. The flyer did not mention Chief Cam Sanchez by name, but given that he’s been chief the past 14 years — the longest of any police chief in California — it didn’t need to.
The POA mailer took issue with the mold, asbestos, and lead found by Cal/OSHA inspectors at police headquarters earlier this year. Although the City Council has budgeted for 144 sworn officers, the actual field strength is closer to 130. That’s because several cops have been injured, some have retired, and many have transferred to other departments closer to their hometowns. POA leader Sergeant Mike McGrew said poor morale was to blame, insisting it’s never been lower. Sanchez was not available for comment, having sustained injuries when a tire smashed into his windshield while he was driving toward LAX this past Sunday.
City administrators acknowledge the department is experiencing chronic recruitment and retention issues but added that those are common to departments throughout the state. Since public attention has become more focused on issues of police brutality and racial profiling — the so-called Ferguson effect — departmental brass say fewer qualified recruits are interested in signing up for the police academy. McGrew also said calls for service have hit record levels and that officers have been forced to respond without backup. Likewise, he contends there’s been a seven-fold increase in the number of assaults on officers.
McGrew said with 30 days left before the election, it remains possible the union could still endorse candidates. If it doesn’t, it will be the first time in 30 years the POA — normally a significant endorsement — has not backed candidates in a City Council race. In the meantime, the Firefighters Association has not yet decided which, if any, candidates it will endorse.