Protesters march against police brutality and justice for Breonna, George and Ahmaud Sunday May 31, 2020. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Calls for racial and social justice have been ringing loudly as nearly each day brings news of more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community members being harassed, harmed, and killed by the police. Perhaps you have been protesting, posting on social media, and having discussions with family and friends — or perhaps you are still learning more about issues around policing. These are all important actions, but now is the time to make your voice heard again. The Board of Supervisors has declared racism a public health crisis, and we ask you to join us in ensuring that Santa Barbara County funds the services they deem priorities.

Currently, our County spends $255 million annually on supervising (Probation), prosecuting (District Attorney), and policing or incarcerating (Sheriff) the community. More funding goes into these departments than to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness Department combined. We ask you to sign this petition for shifting funding from incarceration to community safety, email the Board of Supervisors, and make a public comment on June 8 and 10 when the County Board of Supervisors will hold budget hearings to decide how much funding each department receives.

Why should you support shifting funding from the Sheriff’s Office to community-based organizations and initiatives? Experts agree that investing in the police does not make communities safer — investing in communities makes them safer.

The safest communities are the ones with the easiest access to quality resources. Crime reduction cannot happen without addressing the issues that stem from chronic poverty, racism, and the complex traumas associated with them. This means moving funds to support mental and physical health care, access to high quality educational services, stable and affordable housing, and other basic needs such as clothing and food.

In Santa Barbara County, we are lucky to have many well-established, reputable, and effective community organizations led by people whose communities are most impacted by policing. A few examples include Healing Justice Santa Barbara, El Centro, Ethnic Studies Now!, CAUSE, and Freedom 4 Youth. These groups are already doing great work and could expand their impact with additional funding from the County.

Does shifting $26.7 million away from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office mean no one will answer when you call 9-1-1? No. It could mean that instead of law enforcement, who are trained to respond aggressively, more calls are responded to by social workers and teams trained in de-escalation, whose response is based on protecting and helping people, not incarcerating them.

Based on county data for 2019, traffic stops dominated officers’ days, but they also frequently responded to calls about “suspicious circumstances,” conducted field interviews (also known as questioning people without suspecting them of a crime) — even responded to complaints about music. In many of these instances, an armed officer was dispatched for something where no threat of violence was present.

Santa Barbara County should extend its dispatch capacities to trained crisis teams who are experts in mental health, houseless, and substance abuse issues. These teams would offer enhanced access to community-based services which addresses the root cause of people’s crises, therefore decreasing the likelihood of further crises and 911 calls while increasing public safety. This kind of intervention builds trust with communities and encourages people to reach out to get the help they need.

In addition, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department can afford the cut to their bloated budget. Even after accounting for inflation, Santa Barbara County now spends $30.3 million, or 42.4 percent, more on incarceration than it did 30 years ago. We are asking for a shift in funds of $26.7 million because that is how much more Santa Barbara County allocates to the Sheriff’s Office compared to the average of eight similarly sized counties in California, such as Tulare, Solano, and Monterey.

As of today, in May 2021, the Santa Barbara County jail has cut its population by 37 percent from March 2020 levels, mainly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides a golden opportunity to establish a new normal that spends less of taxpayers’ money on policing and incarceration, which perpetuate trauma and poverty and have been proven to be ineffective and harmful practices.

The time is now to reimagine what public safety looks like for Santa Barbara County. We ask that you show your support for community-based safety, racial justice, and fiscal responsibility by signing this petition for shifting funding from incarceration to community safety, emailing the Board of Supervisors, and making a public comment during the budget hearings on June 8 or 10.


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