With COVID restrictions all but eliminated, Santa Barbara police are anticipating a much more active State Street; to that end, up to two officers have been reassigned to the downtown patrol.
According to police spokesperson Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale, the additional officers will be deployed on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle, depending on the circumstances. The motorcycles, he noted, are equipped with the emergency flashing lights and sirens required during a heavy situation but are nimble enough to navigate the bollards and barriers of State Street’s promenade.
Ragsdale said the plan had been in the works for some time. It coincides with a rise in complaints by downtown landlords — and others in the business community — about increased friction between people living on the streets and downtown visitors.
Last week, SIMA Corporation owner Jim Knell bombarded the mayor and every member of the City Council with a voice recording of a downtown restaurant owner on the 500 block angrily complaining that one of his employees had been slashed by a homeless person and that the police showed up only after three calls for service and an hour had elapsed.
Ragsdale noted that the victim in the case had been punched twice in the face but not slashed. The police, he added, were first notified 45 minutes after the incident had occurred and the assailant was long gone, and they arrived within the hour. The victim, he said, declined medical treatment, and the assault was still under investigation.
Knell — vocal in his complaints about homeless people — asserted the number of violent incidents between homeless people and the public is increasing. According to statistics released by Ragsdale, there have been 13 type I crimes — those that are violent or serious — reported along 13 blocks of State Street from February to June 10. Of those, five occurred on the 800 block of State. It is unclear, however, how many of those 13 crimes involved homeless people.
With State Street now opening up more, the opportunity for conflict has increased. Last week when a 60-year-old homeless man and longtime Santa Barbara resident was rousted from his accustomed spot in the Presidio courtyard, he reportedly wielded a pair of scissors in a threatening manner and then fled. When police attempted to detain him a few blocks away, he refused to comply. Reinforcements were called, and officers used their bicycles as defensive barriers and waited out the suspect, who eventually complied.
In another incident, police detained a 40-year-old homeless man with a loaded handgun tucked into the waistband of his pants. In this instance, the suspect got on his knees and put his hands in the air before being ordered to do so.
Ragsdale said additional patrol officers will be downtown 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday and 10 a.m.-3 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday.