Crime Rates Are Down, but Police Use of Force Is Up for Discussion

Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow at the City Council
Paul Wellman

Crime rates have generally dropped in the City of Santa Barbara, reported Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. There were 7,913 arrests in the city in 2017, of which 146 involved use of force. In the last year, there were 576 reported incidents of violent crime, with 35 and 13 percent decreases in rape and robbery, respectively. Property crime dropped by 19 percent. However, aggravated assault incidents shot up 20 percent.

Councilmember Jason Dominguez quizzed Luhnow over a 34 percent drop in citations, asking whether it had to do with less crime or a change in protocol. “We have been on a hamster wheel, writing citations that didn’t have an impact,” Luhnow told the council. “We have stepped back. We’re using more comprehensive approaches and long-term problem solving.” Some long-term solutions, Lt. Dan McGrew told the council, include an approach “to warn and educate” before giving citations to people committing low-level offenses, like skateboarders or smokers who “refuse to comply with authorities.”

The Thomas Fire proved to be a challenge for first responders within the department. Chaplains logged 400 hours as they aided family assistance centers and delivered notifications to families of the deceased. Personnel personally affected by the fire received $30,000 in funding from the S.B. Police Foundation, including one-on-one counseling and family support.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow at the City Council
Paul Wellman

Use of force was also a topic of contention during the beginning of the City Council meeting, as Scott Ruskamp of Equity for Santa Barbara called for the police department to implement use-of-force policy changes. The organization had presented a written draft with updated language to the Police Department in June, Ruskamp said, but no policy changes have been put into effect since.

Luhnow addressed the use-of-force policy in her update, calling the plans “a de-escalation model” that include both the department’s philosophy and making proper assessments. She called Ruskamp’s recommendations “basic” and part of a “standard,” saying that the department has been working on a top-down strategy and dialogue to encourage internal changes.

“Our police culture is everything when it comes down to use of force,” Luhnow said. “What’s most important to me is that we have a police department that’s committed to treating people fairly.” There is no full-time training, she said, but an internal committee work group is in the process of addressing the issues. The department said that feedback on the department’s policy can be submitted at

Editor’s Note: Lt. Dan McGrew’s first name was corrected on April 16.


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