Ryan Smith, 31, has announced that he’ll be seeking the seat in next year’s election, saying he’s not looking at the race as a way to cap off a career, but to begin a “paradigm shift” that’s badly needed in the Sheriff’s Department.
“I feel like I’m in the prime of my career,” he said. “I’m not looking to be a figurehead.”
Smith describes himself as part of the “boots on the ground in Isla Vista,” where he’s been for eight months. Before that, he served as a police officer in Santa Paula for a decade.
Also in the race is sheriff’s Detective Sandra Brown, who officially announced last week that she’ll be seeking the position.
Smith worked with the Santa Paula Police Department for 10 years, in a community with significant gang and narcotics problems, a challenge for policing, especially with dwindling resources.
“We had to do a more with less,” he said. “You have to adapt and overcome as an organization because it’s not OK to cut services.”
He held a variety of positions in Santa Paula, including police officer, field training officer, senior police officer and sergeant, and served in specialty assignments such as tactical team operator, canine handler and Crime Suppression Team member.
Mutual-aid agreements meant that Smith was often asked to police Fiesta in downtown Santa Barbara and Halloween in Isla Vista, and he’s been working those events for the past eight years.
Smith studied criminal justice at Arizona State University and the University of Virginia. He’s also enrolled at the Santa Barbara College of Law, where he’s working toward a master’s degree in legal studies, which he plans to complete next year.
Just because he’s new to living in the county “doesn’t mean I don’t have an investment,” he said.
Smith spoke about the need to run the Sheriff’s Department in a fiscally responsible way, and said he’s seen firsthand that enough resources haven’t been allocated to street-level policing. Department employees, as hardworking as they are, “are handcuffed by lack of resources,” he said.
Brown has been somewhat of a one-issue leader, Smith said — “there is more to the law enforcement in Santa Barbara County than the North County jail” — and said that employees don’t feel heard.
“Some of the best recommendations are from people working on the street,” he said. “The best and brightest are demoralized. ... You have to be accessible to your people.”
When reached Thursday, Brown stressed once again that the race is an open one and doesn’t belong to a single person.
“We’ll be mounting a very strong campaign at the appropriate time, and the voters will ultimately make the decision as to who they think will be the best person for the office,” Brown said.
Smith spoke of deputies trying to give away overtime shifts because they’re being asked to work so much already.
“They’re being burnt out. Every time people say, ‘I don’t want my taxes raised,’ law enforcement stomps their feet,” he said, adding that a needs assessment should be done internally and externally on the department. “We’ve learned a lot from this downturn, what are we going to do with it?”
Creating regional partnerships with smaller agencies would be key, he said, including reaching out to the sometimes adversarial relationships with police chiefs in the area.
“Criminals don’t care about boundaries,” he said.
Click here for more information on Smith’s platform.