At Ease Program Director Mike McGrew, Board President Pam Geremia, and Executive Director Greg Hons | Credit: Gail Arnold

On September 29, more than 900 supporters turned out for the Santa Barbara Police Foundation’s (SBPF) annual, aptly named, Fun with the Force event at the Nesbitt Estate in Summerland.

The event raised funds for this very worthy nonprofit, which provides financial support for injured and ill Police Department employees and their families. It funds the At Ease program, which provides counseling services to first responders. The Foundation also purchases non-budgeted equipment. 

At this casual and very fun event, guests got to chat with officers and try out (unloaded) multi-launchers and shotguns, visit with K-9 members and their officer handlers, and check out the new Mobile Command Unit and SWAT Equipment Truck.

Exciting SWAT team demonstrations featured new canine member Murdoch charging across the field and attacking a wanted man, who was safely ensconced in a bite suit.  

Guests, including about 300 first responders and family members, sampled food and beverage offerings from two dozen food purveyors and several wine and spirits purveyors whose booths circled the expansive, scenic grounds.  

For the program, guests were seated at tables and welcomed by At Ease Program Director and retired police sergeant Mike McGrew. Police Chief Lori Luhnow noted the limits of government budgets and expressed her gratitude for guests’ support of officers. She related how in our community, we have seen more tragedies than most people see in a lifetime and that the number one cause of death for police officers is suicide. 

In a poignant video, McGrew shared how first responders deal with trauma that others can’t even imagine. The At Ease Program was set up to confidentially address issues these responders experience when they go to disasters or accidents or are put on a homicide investigation. District Attorney Joyce Dudley explained how critical the At Ease Program is because “you can’t do trauma-based work without being traumatized. . .  We need our first responders to be able to show up being the best that they can be.” Luhnow shared how a police career layers years of trauma on people and that when left unchecked can culminate in a way devastating to the individual and organization. 

S.B. County Firefighter Sam Dudley, Joyce’s son, related how in the 1/9 Debris Flow, he rescued a severely injured two-year-old boy, who looked just like his own son. Dudley heard muffled crying, pulled the boy out, cleared his airway of mud and debris, turned him over to an ambulance, and then went on to find the boy’s ten-year-old sibling, deceased. Dudley confided how “it’s really hard when we find someone we can’t help” and that he couldn’t forget the situation or forgive himself. Thanks to the At Ease Program, he shared, he is now at peace with the job he did.

McGrew closed out the video, noting how because of the success of the At Ease Program, the rest of the nation is looking at it. He expressed his gratitude for a program that is reducing high divorce rates, suicide rates, and alcoholism.

The event honored Leatrice “Lee” Luria for funding the purchase of two new K-9s, their training, and their bullet-proof vests. Michael Hammer was honored for his instrumental role in founding the At Ease Program and supporting it. Peter Hilf was also honored for his financial support.

Dennis Miller entertained with an opening monologue and auction and then Kenny Loggins and his Band did a fantastic hour-long concert that included Footloose, Danger Zone, and many other hits.

In the first eight months of this year, the At Ease Program served more than 5oo first responders. From January 2018 through August 2019, the Santa Barbara Police Foundation provided $202,554 in financial support for Department employees and families, $294,497 for the At Ease Program, and $358,886 for equipment.

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Boardmember Paul Cashman with Event Chair James Nigro
Board Vice President Eric Phillips and Nina Phillips
Venue host Pat Nesbitt and Boardmember Craig Case
Greg Huron and Police Chief Lori Luhnow
Kenny Loggins performs.
John Palminteri and Board Secretary Joanne Funari
Dennis Miller
Honoree Leatrice “Lee” Luria
Demonstration with K-9 Murdoch
Murdoch with his handler, Officer Lucas Signorelli and SWAT Team members.
Honoree Michael Hammer with At Ease Program Director Mike McGrew
Event Committee Members
Demonstration with K-9 Murdoch
At Ease Program Director Mike McGrew, Board President Pam Geremia, and Executive Director Greg Hons


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