Every day law enforcement executive leaders face tough challenges and changes that impact their organizations. How they view and respond to these developments is important.
It’s easy to be a critic, and since it’s election time there’s currently no shortage of complaints and accusations. Misleading campaign literature, sound bites, and opinion pieces are being disseminated and published in local papers. Unrealistic promises are being offered, with no real plans on how they could be funded and kept.
The bottom line is this. When it comes to public safety, what’s most important to the people of Santa Barbara County?
It’s important to have a safe community with an excellent quality of life. There must be timely emergency responses when people need help, and offenders need to be held accountable in safe and humane custody. It’s imperative that local law enforcement agencies hire quality people who are fair, professional, and compassionate, and that the agencies are transparent and responsive to constituent needs. Lastly, it’s important that the Sheriff be someone with impeccable integrity and extensive, relevant experience who obtains results.
For the last 11 years, I’ve worked hard to stay positive, get things done, and deliver the best law enforcement and corrections services possible given the limited resources we have available. When the financial cupboard’s been bare, I’ve sought and obtained much-needed funding from the state and federal governments, and through the largesse of community organizations and individuals. Even so, during the last decade the county’s dire financial straits and budget shortfalls have resulted in the loss of 90 General Fund positions in the Sheriff’s Office. As a consequence, many of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make were choices between bad and worse that have not always been consistent with the wishes and desires of the deputies’ union.
Nevertheless, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is doing very well. There have been no major scandals. Serious crime is at rates near 40-year lows. If you call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance, a black and white will immediately be on the way. Through collaboration with UCSB, its students and others, Isla Vista’s historically wild and unsanctioned Halloween and Deltopia events have been tamed. A new, state-of-the-art jail, funded by $80 million in state grants and designed to promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, is under construction; it will open next year and has brought hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to our local economy.
Although the recruitment pool has become a puddle for all law enforcement agencies, the Sheriff’s Office continues to attract and hire top-quality people. We are working collaboratively with other agencies to better serve the mentally ill and divert them from jail, and to address disaster preparedness and response. Our agency is accessible to the media and to the public; we produce a quarterly video news magazine, host a comprehensive website, and have a strong presence on social media. Our agency’s reputation in the community and among our peer agencies is stellar. During the past few years we have been challenged like never before, with several despicable mass murder incidents, multiple wildland fires, and the devastating debris flow in Montecito. In all those critical incidents the members of the Sheriff’s Office rose to the occasion and delivered exceptional service.
Although many challenges lie ahead, I am confident and optimistic about our agency’s future. Current election rhetoric may say “It’s time for a change,” but what’s really needed now — more than ever — is a Sheriff with steady, proven executive leadership who will continue leading the Sheriff’s Office in the right direction.
Bill Brown is running too keep his office of Sheriff of Santa Barbara County.