Sergeant Brian Larson, head of the Santa Barbara Police Department’s detectives division and Crimes Against Persons Unit, has been on administrative leave since March 3 pending resolution of a four-month-long investigation into allegations he created a hostile work environment for women who worked under his supervision.
According to police sources, Larson has been a gifted investigator who could be counted on to handle the toughest of the tough cases. Eight years ago, he won the prestigious H. Thomas Guerry Award. But according to the same sources, Larson could also be hard on people who worked under him. According to some, his critical remarks to the women he supervised were significantly harsher than those meted out to men.
At issue was whether Larson’s conduct constituted sexual discrimination or merely bad management. City Hall hired an outside firm to investigate 13 allegations made against Larson; it reportedly determined that 11 were substantiated. Based on these findings, Commander Kenneth Kushner reportedly recommended that Larson be terminated.
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The matter then went to an internal hearing presided over by Interim Chief Bernard Melekian. Chief Melekian would instead recommend that Larson be suspended for 30 days without pay instead and reassigned to a different division.
Larson was sworn into the Santa Barbara Police Department in June 2007 and promoted to sergeant in 2017 by former Chief Lori Luhnow. In 2019, Larson was elevated to the Detective Bureau. Given Larson’s prominence in the department and the community, the circumstances surrounding his absence has stirred notice, speculation, and not an insubstantial amount of controversy. So, too, did Melekian’s decision to soften the disciplinary recommendation.
Although Larson never agreed to the more favorable terms, it was expected he might sign legal papers early this week agreeing to Melekian’s determination. For the time being, however, that deal is off the table. A handful of new witnesses have reportedly come forward in the past week, and their accounts will now be investigated.
Larson and Melekian declined to comment on any specifics of what remains a pending personnel action.