Credit: Sgt. Rashun Drayton

Barney Melekian was sworn in as the City of Santa Barbara’s 28th police chief — at least since 1900. 

Melekian will serve as interim chief for the next six months or however long it takes City Administrator Paul Casey to find a permanent successor to Lori Luhnow, who stepped down as chief on February 13 after five years on the job. Melekian brings with him 46 years of experience in law enforcement, 13 of which he served as chief of Pasadena, where he also functioned as acting fire chief and interim city manager. More recently, however, he served nearly four years as undersheriff to Sheriff Bill Brown, where he enjoyed a reputation on the Fourth Floor of the County Administration as “a supervisor’s whisperer.” 

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Melekian resigned after Brown most recently won reelection, at which point he was quickly snatched up by County Administrator Mona Miyasato to represent her office in dealing with matters having to do with public safety. As such, he would be given the politically charged task of creating order out of the county’s ever-evolving cannabis regulations. Soft-spoken, scholarly, and politically savvy, Melekian pledged his commitment to 21st century policing, which he has championed while serving on the board of the National Police Foundation, created in the wake of the riots of the 1960s to forge better relations between law enforcement agencies and the county’s African-American communities. 

While serving only on an interim basis, Melekian and the department will face immediate budget challenges in the wake of COVID-19. In addition, he will be at the helm as the city’s newly formed Community Formation Commission grapples with what kind of police review board is most appropriate for the city police department. This commission — unprecedented in Santa Barbara history — arose as a local response to the national outrage over the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis police officers last Spring. In addition, Melekian will serve as chief as City Hall seeks to build a new police department at the commuter parking lot by Cota and Santa Barbara streets, now home to the Saturday farmers’ market. Typically, such swearing-in ceremonies are high mass events at City Hall, but because of the pandemic, Melekian’s was low-key, accompanied by his wife, Nancy Melekian, two captains, Paul Casey, and a couple of other staff to applaud and take pictures. 

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