Barney Melekian, Santa Barbara’s Interim Chief of Police, officially retired after a 50-year career in law enforcement this week and will be replaced by Captain Marylinda Arroyo, who will serve as interim-interim until a permanent new chief is chosen. Melekian served far longer than he initially anticipated when he took the post in March 2021, after former chief Lori Luhnow resigned. Melekian combined street cred, having won both the Medal of Valor and Medal of Courage during his years with the Santa Monica Police; administrative chops, as he served as both fire chief and city administrator for the city of Pasadena; and political smarts, having served in the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration as director of the Community Oriented Policing Services Office.
Melekian took over just as City Hall was experiencing much internal and external melodrama. Allegations of conflict of interest had been leveled on the department’s then public information officer, which were ultimately dismissed. Melekian played a key role in the development of a proposed civilian oversight commission. He was open to the idea of such a commission but stubbornly resistant to the specifics of the proposal by a special commission appointed by the council. Words were exchanged and feelings bruised before the dust settled.
As chief, Melekian was unstinting in his praise of the department and the officers who served it even as he struggled with the vacancy challenges common to all law enforcement agencies recently. Hiring a new chief to replace him proved more challenging than anticipated. In Melekian’s final days, more drama would seize the department over what was appropriate discipline for a police sergeant for making hostile and derogatory comments to women officers under his command. The sergeant’s commander recommended termination and Melekian initially recommended a 30-day suspension, but after additional witnesses came forward, the internal investigation was extended. How that shakes out will be up to Arroyo or the new chief to determine.