Police Chief Lori Luhnow

Paul Wellman

Police Chief Lori Luhnow

From the Chief’s Mouth

Luhnow Highlights Forced De-escalation, Homeless Strategies

Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow has been on the job slightly more than a year, and her honeymoon period with the City Council remains in full bloom. Councilmembers greeted her presentation this week with an avalanche of superlatives. “Well done! Well done!” exclaimed Councilmember Randy Rowse. “Kudos!” chimed in Councilmember Gregg Hart.

Luhnow started off the meeting by personally introducing seven new officer trainees to the council, describing in detail relevant background, military training, sports history, romantic attachments, and what they like to do in their free time. Of the department’s 142 positions ​— ​not all sworn ​— ​Luhnow said she’s filled 140. She then gave the council a brief rundown on use of force, noting that of 3,800 actual arrests last year, only 128 required the use of some force. Of those, only three caused injury. None resulted in death. In those instances, Luhnow said, the use of force was applied either by hand or, in one instance, by canine. In all cases, the subjects were treated and then booked.

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The chief highlighted the cultural emphasis her department places on de-escalation. She cited an instance where a subject barricaded in a doctor’s office attacked officers with a fire extinguisher. Rather than respond in kind, they effectively waited him out. In another, she praised an officer for risking life and limb to grab a subject as he attempted to leap to his death from a balcony.

Luhnow outlined the implicit-bias training her officers receive, noting how community members are “embedded” in the training. Her officers, she said, were about to be offered “mindful meditation” instruction as part of an effort to maintain the psychological resiliency of her officers.

Since taking over, Luhnow has been under fire from downtown business interests to deal with disruptions posed by street people. A team of nine trained volunteers, she said, have spent 534 hours on the streets in two months, 117 of which were downtown. The restorative policing program ​— ​started by prior chief Cam Sanchez ​— ​reconnected 11 homeless people with their families in July and August and got another 18 plugged into various programs. In addition, Luhnow is collaborating with the city’s parking program to field a team of red-shirted and khaki-hatted “ambassadors” mostly to engage with street people but also to maintain a street presence.

Councilmember Bendy White noted how in past years, the Police Department experimented with yellow shirts and blue shirts. “Now we have red-shirts,” he stated, before expressing gratitude for the progress made. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, more of a get-tough-on-crime traditionalist, said he favored Chris Rock’s advice, “Obey the law,” when dealing with issues of police use of force. “Do we take that point?” he asked. Based on the few incidents where force was required, Luhnow said the department clearly did.

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