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For 16 years, Crystal Bedolla was a rising star in the Santa Barbara Police Department. Like all new hires, she started out as a patrol officer, but her toughness and gumption quickly earned her a promotion to the Gang Suppression Team, where she helped put away violent Westsiders and track down a murder suspect on the lam in Mexico.
Later in her career, as a detective in the Major Crimes Unit, Bedolla’s investigatory skills led to the arrest of a child molester, who is now spending the rest of his life behind bars. She was publicly commended on more than one occasion for her work in prosecuting sex crimes, and in 2015, she earned an award from the District Attorney’s Office during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
That same year, however, Bedolla used her position as a sworn officer to “gain influence in a non-department related incident,” according to her disciplinary file. Then, in 2018, Bedolla’s career as a decorated member of the force came to an abrupt and unceremonious end.
Information on Bedolla’s firing, and the process that led up to it, were provided to the Santa Barbara Independent as part of its ongoing request for police records on officer misconduct. This initial disclosure offers a glimpse into the department’s normally secretive process of scrutinizing and disciplining its own. Additional records are forthcoming. In response to the killing of George Floyd and longstanding grievances over police abuse, regional organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement are also now pushing for the creation of a civilian review board in the city.
Bedolla’s firing is described in two separate documents, a “Notice of Intent to Dismiss” written on July 16, 2018, by Lt. Alex Altavilla, and a “Final Notice of Dismissal” authored and signed September 15, 2018, by Chief Lori Luhnow. The records describe multiple instances of “dishonesty,” “insubordination,” and the “falsification of records” by Bedolla.
Sometime in 2016, Altavilla’s notice says, without providing an exact date, Bedolla lied in a report about a stolen vehicle she had located on the 300 block of Bath Street. She wrote she’d spotted the car “while en-route to another call,” but her patrol vehicle’s GPS system, investigators later discovered, showed she had in fact stopped and parked nearby for several minutes and never responded to another call.
When first confronted, Bedolla denied any wrongdoing. When pressed, she acknowledged fudging the language in her report but claimed it was normal for officers to use phrases that might be misleading. “[I]t is common for us to write certain languages in the report, I don’t want to say to safeguard, but there is certain language we use at times,” she told investigators. “There are times you can put ‘while en-route’ when you are not necessarily ‘en-route.’” It was only when Bedolla realized she was in real trouble did she admit she had actually stopped to have a “personal conversation” with an off-duty police officer from Orange County. She refused to discuss the nature of the conversation.
In August 2017, Altavilla said, Bedolla responded to assist a parking enforcement officer who was in the process of citing a man for operating his car with two different license plates. Again, investigators found, Bedolla included misleading statements in her report about her interactions with the suspect and appeared to rush through the interview process because she “had an appointment.” Moreover, Bedolla recorded just seven minutes and 21 seconds of the 31-minute call on her patrol vehicle’s dash cam, when standard operating procedure dictated the camera remain rolling for the entirety of her response. She couldn’t account for the missing time.
Then, in September 2017, Altavilla continues, Bedolla was dispatched to Canalino School in Carpinteria to investigate a sexual assault. When she called back to police headquarters with her initial findings, she was directed to “stand down” and let Sheriff’s Office detectives take over the case, since the school was in the county’s jurisdiction. Bedolla ignored the order and instead canceled the call to the Sheriff’s Office investigators and then interviewed the victim’s parents herself. Under questioning about her decision to disobey a direct order, she said, “I’ve never had to call a supervisor for every little thing.” Later, a supervisor asked Bedolla to not log any overtime while writing her report. Instead, she clocked 2.2 hours of overtime while having a leisurely breakfast at Sambo’s Restaurant.
Chief Luhnow said while Bedolla’s dishonesty in the stolen car report was grounds for termination on its own, it was her pattern of flouting orders and acting against department policy that convinced her to uphold Altavilla’s recommendation for dismissal. “There is no doubt that Police Officers are held to a higher standard because of their important duty of serving and protecting the public,” she wrote. “Therefore, it is imperative that officers adhere to a strict code of truthfulness at all times. In accepting employment by the public, officers take a sworn oath that they will not engage in conduct which calls into question whether they at all times will truthfully perform their official responsibilities.”
Bedolla currently works as a licensed private investigator for Hayes Law Offices in Santa Barbara. Multiple requests to the firm for comment went unanswered. Attempts to reach Bedolla were not successful. During her last year with the Police Department, she earned $195,000 in pay and benefits.
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