Sunday, May 29 , 2016, 1:08 am | Overcast 59º

Santa Maria’s Interim Police Chief Considers Applying for Permanent Post

Ralph Martin, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's commander, has implemented big departmental changes since his appointment in August

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Santa Maria’s interim police chief says he will decide in less than a week whether to apply for the permanent post and continue the changes he has put in place since August.

Ralph Martin, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department commander who replaced longtime, controversial Chief Danny Macagni, said Thursday that he’s still considering whether to put his hat in the ring.

Doing so — assuming he’s selected through the city’s nationwide search — would extend what was supposed to be a six-month stay in a department that has experienced public scrutiny and internal turmoil in recent months.

After reorganizing the department and making an effort to reach out to the community, Martin said he could picture himself staying at least another three years. He said he’ll decide for sure by 5 p.m. Wednesday, when the application period ends.

“I have not fully committed to applying,” Martin told Noozhawk. “The work I’m doing right now is foundational. It would be difficult for someone to pick up after me. I’ve had people (try to) convince me to stay.”

Martin, 61, came out of a three-year retirement in August, leaving his wife and some of his six grown children who live in Orange County.

Once in Santa Maria, he realized the Police Department needed a complete restructuring.

While the number of officer-involved shootings seemed small to Martin — who went from managing 2,500 officers in L.A. County to 160 in Santa Maria — that number is big to community members who hadn’t seen one in eight or so years.

Martin hosted a well-attended community forum to hear from the public in October, and has since reinstituted community-based policing. Three beat coordinators field cell phone calls from residents who might not want to call 9-1-1.

The supervisor-to-officer ratio has gone from 13-to-1 to 8-to-1, and Martin has the department using a program that reviews crime statistics and holds commanders responsible for incidents that could have been prevented.

Twenty police officers should be added in the next year, Martin said, partly from Measure U funds and partly from six positions that were left vacant to save money.

“The days of us reacting to calls are behind us,” he said.

Martin has been sending personnel to Cal Poly and UCSB career fairs to recruit officers, and he expects a second community forum will happen in December.

All these reasons and more have Martin second-guessing the length of his tenure.

“It’s kind of an exciting time in the department,” Martin said. “The changes I’ve been making I feel are positive. It’s very flattering. They keep saying I would be a good fit.

“I’m a people-oriented person. I enjoy listening. People have been very gracious and receptive.”

Martin humbly says anyone with experience similar to his 35 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would have made the same changes in Santa Maria that he did.

If he does decide to go back into retirement, Martin said he’ll return to law enforcement consulting.

He said his wife understands that he might want to finish what he started. Even then, Martin said, he would have to go through the same process as the other candidates.

“There are more issues than I thought,” Martin said.

City Manager Rick Haydon said Thursday night that if Martin applies, he wouldn’t be given any advantage over other candidates. He said the city won’t find out how many candidates applied until Wednesday, although the application website has had more than 1,000 hits.

Haydon said a permanent police chief could be appointed by mid-December and start in January or February.

“I think he’s done an excellent job insinuating himself into the community,” Haydon said, noting the good work Martin has done without commenting on specifics of recruitment. “He’s jumped in with both feet.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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