This Friday, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow addressed a group of nine Santa Barbara residents from diverse backgrounds, including three retired UCSB professors, elementary and high school teachers, IT consultants, an engineer, a lawyer, and an assistant director of the Boys’ and Girls Club in Goleta. “You will be our extra eyes and ears for community members that feel safer approaching you than they do us,” Luhnow said, before handing each one a badge.
The nine form the inaugural group of the police department’s new Volunteers in Policing (VIP) program. They were sworn in Friday by Luhnow and City Administrator Paul Casey. The VIPs, as they are called, will wear gray uniforms and “Volunteer” badges. As “ambassadors” between the community and the department, they will begin by manning the department’s lobby on Figueroa Street, before graduating to the State Street area, where they will enhance the downtown police presence, according to Sergeant Bryan Jensen, who will be supervising the VIPs’ training and posts. The VIPs began their first training following the ceremony on Friday.
The program, which was introduced and supported by the City Council last October, is part of Luhnow’s goal of enhancing the department’s relationship and communication with the public, through an approach known as community-oriented policing. “To me, this means involving and including the community in problem-solving. It’s really a two-way dialogue,” explained Jensen. Luhnow added, “This community’s problems are everyone’s responsibility.”
Luhnow is no stranger to overseeing volunteer police programs. Before joining the SBPD a year ago, Luhnow served for 27 years in the San Diego Police Department, whose volunteer force numbered in the hundreds. While the Santa Barbara VIP initiative is starting out small, the department hopes it will grow quickly. Howie Giles, appointed the full-time Volunteer Director, plans to recruit another ten volunteers in 2018.
A retired UCSB Professor of Communication, Giles hand-selected the VIPs from the extended networks of his friends and former colleagues. Joining the VIPs is his wife Jane Giles, a former high school teacher who now works as an IT consultant. In selecting the volunteers, the department looked for candidates with diverse life and professional experiences, strong character, and a proven dedication to public service, according to Jensen. The nine volunteers all passed background checks.
When asked if he was nervous about the new role he would play as a VIP, Corey Anderson responded, “In a way, but I’ve dealt with people my whole life and I’m not a shy person.” Anderson, 67, heard about the program through his biking buddy Dick Kemmerer, also among the inaugural VIPs. He’s volunteered extensively with youth as a soccer coach, a girls softball coach at Goleta Valley Junior High, and a Math Super Bowl Coach at Mountain View Elementary School, which his children attended. Since Anderson retired two years ago from his career as an engineer, he has also volunteered to preserve and repair Santa Barbara’s front country trails. Anderson said he was excited to get started and help deal with minor issues, so that officers can “dedicate more of their time to duties that only a sworn official is qualified to do.”
Also present at the event was Greg Hons of the Santa Barbara Police Foundation. As the sole funder of the VIP initiative, the Foundation has allotted $15,000 for the current year, which will be used to pay for the VIPs’ training, uniforms, and equipment. The VIP program is a new alternative to the police department’s troubled Community Services Officers (CSO) program, which was established in 2015 with similar goals. But after two years of high costs and low retention rates, the CSO program was recently transferred to the city’s Downtown Parking Administration, in hopes that less stringent background checks and the possibility for full-time employment will make it easier to retain civilian officers, said Sergeant Joshua Morton.