[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series of profiles of local candidates in the June 3 election. Click here for a related feature on Sheriff Bill Brown.]
A longtime resident of Cuyama recently invited Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Sgt. Sandra Brown into his home for an orange soda and a frank conversation about his view of law enforcement.
Residents of the tiny town on the outskirts of Santa Barbara County can often feel ignored. According to Brown, who is challenging her boss, Sheriff Bill Brown, in the June 3 election, it’s a feeling that parallels what she says is the neglect her opponent has shown to his talented staff and on other important issues — except the new North County Jail.
Sandra Brown, no relation to the incumbent, has spent nearly 17 years with the Sheriff’s Department, and currently is serving as detective sergeant in the Special Investigations Bureau of the Coroner’s Office.
Beyond a last name, she thinks the two share little else.
The visit in Cuyama was one of dozens of meet-and-greets Brown has hosted since announcing her intent to run nearly a year ago in what she calls a “grass-roots movement.”
“Those are the people we’re talking to and finding out what their needs are and experiences with law enforcement,” said Brown, a 48-year-old Orcutt resident. “I’m going out and really just met thousands of people in the county, in literally face-to-face conversations.
“I think people are saddened to see a sheriff so focused on incarceration,” she said. “We need to have a philosophy change.”
What she’s heard has varied as widely as the locations of her campaign coffee stops.
The Ventura native sat down with Noozhawk last week, tired yet fresh from a week-long vacation taken to balance campaigning with her full-time job.
Brown has focused on explaining the positive impact a sheriff can have when he or she leads with compassion, foresight and an emphasis on problem-solving, not problem-reaction.
Past posts in Goleta, Carpinteria, Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Solvang have given her a broader view of what the department can do, and collaborating with colleagues has inspired her to attempt curbing an already “all-time low” in morale.
Being assigned to the Coroner’s Office compliments Brown’s dark sense of humor, but she said it’s also made her a better person — honest, transparent and more aware of heading off crime trends.
“It makes me want to leave positive footprints,” she said.
Originally on track to be a firefighter-paramedic, Brown attended Ventura College and the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, without earning a degree, before graduating from Daniel Freeman Paramedic School in 1989.
Shortly after, at age 30, she joined the fast-paced nature of the Sheriff’s Department, enjoying the ability to improve the lives of others — something she strives for today.
Brown wants more county gang unit staff — currently a two-deputy team — and a focus on quality of life issues, including homelessness and crime prevention via parents and kids.
A parent academy could teach ways to proactively punish and reward youth for behaviors before they end up in trouble or jail, said Brown, who started a similar academy as a community resource deputy in Buellton.
She’s also served as an Isla Vista senior deputy and as an agent for the Santa Barbara Regional Narcotic Enforcement Team.
“It’s not suppression enforcement and incarceration,” Brown said. “It should be prevention. There has to be that follow through.”
Brown cites a decay in law enforcement’s mission, something further seen in the department’s handling of Deltopia and the subsequent rioting — what she calls a “successful failure.”
The unsanctioned street party in Isla Vista should be handled the same way the sheriff handles Halloween in the densely packed college community adjacent to the UC Santa Barbara campus, with more money, manpower and tougher consequences for students.
“The component is alcohol,” she said. “You have to spend money on an event like that. It’s going to happen again next year.”
She pointed to personal experiences cracking down on underage drinking with citations, bringing up forced overtime shifts that are driving some deputies from the department.
The Sheriff’s Department is down 41 fully funded positions, said Brown, who noted that money could be saved by axing unnecessary jobs — a sergeant currently serving as assistant to the sheriff, for instance — and better allocating resources.
“We need to improve the environment,” she said. “One of the reasons why I’d be a good sheriff is because I’ve risen through the ranks in the department. I’ve worked in all these areas. I’m doing this as a public service.”
In the event that Brown does not win the election, she said she hopes the sheriff would tap into the skills of talented staff — minus the micromanaging.
“I’m a county employee first,” she said. “I’m not looking to change career paths. My hope is he’ll treat me like he did before I decided to run.”
Check back with Noozhawk for a related profile of Sheriff Bill Brown later this week.