Friday, October 9 , 2015, 2:27 pm | Fair 92º

Sheriff, Challenger Face Off in First Election Debate

Incumbent Bill Brown cites his record while Sandra Brown says changes are needed in the department

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and his challenger, Sgt. Sandra Brown, face off in an election forum Wednesday night in Goleta.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and his challenger, Sgt. Sandra Brown, face off in an election forum Wednesday night in Goleta.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

The two candidates vying for Santa Barbara County sheriff in the June 3 election had their first debate Wednesday night, each making the case for why voters should choose them for the office.

Incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown and Sgt. Sandra Brown answered questions at the Goleta Valley Community Center for about an hour, including some from the 75 or so people in the audience.

The forum was presented by the League of Women Voters Education Fund and co-sponsored by the Goodland Coalition and Families ACT.

Questions ranging from the new North County jail, mental health, budget issues, Deltopia and custody operations were tossed to the candidates, who both work for the department but are not related.

Brown started out by saying his department has accomplished much during the 7½ years he's been at the helm, despite some of the worst financial straits ever seen in the county.

Crime rates are near 30-year lows, he said, and the North County jail is on its way to becoming a reality.

The incumbent sheriff also boasted an impressive list of endorsements, from Gov. Jerry Brown to county supervisors Salud Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino.

Sandra Brown said she was hired in 1996 by the office, and has served in multiples roles, including the one she holds now in the Coroner's Bureau.

It wasn't her plan to run, she said, noting that she decided to go for it when she noticed a shift in priorities of the department.

"The focus of our agency has become incarceration and building a new jail. … That's not why I became a cop," she said. 

One of the first questions asked was about Deltopia, the large street party in Isla Vista that occurred earlier this month that turned into a riot.

Sandra Brown said she was working that night and experienced it firsthand.

"It was really a decay of what's going on in our agency. It was poor planning," she said, adding that the situation was understaffed and the department should have known from events at last year's Deltopia that it might be worse.

The department didn't have a mounted unit or a mobile field force unit, which is equipped to deal with large crowds, and staffing numbers were low, she said.

"This was an incident that didn't have to happen," she said.

Bill Brown had a different view, calling it an unsponsored event "fueled by social media."

"This year we had five times more officers than last year," he said, adding that they responded in a prompt way and with courage. No fatalities occurred this year, which he also stressed.

Isla Vista in general was a topic that came up multiple times, and Bill Brown said he's been working with people from SBCC and UCSB and others as well as within the department to analyze what happened at Deltopia

"Most importantly, we're going to be seeking possible solutions," he said.

Using social media as a deterrent against that event is one idea Bill Brown put forward.

Sandra Brown said early intervention is key to heading off problems in Isla Vista, most of which are fueled by alcohol.

If citations are only written at 9:30 at night, "we've already lost the war," she said, adding that deputies must be present when young people are buying alcohol at the store earlier in the day and begin citing then.

Patrol units working as well as foot patrols in the area to stop drugs from out of the area coming in are also key, she said.

"You have to go out there and work really hard," she said. "We need some leadership out there that's excited about the mission."

The candidates were asked about the jail becoming the de facto institution for the mentally ill.

More people are not treated at all or under treated for mental illness, Bill Brown said, adding that those people do not belong in jail. He said mental illness is dear to his heart because it's affected his own family, and that he's worked to institute a jail discharge planner to coordinate inmate releases.

Sandra Brown said the Santa Barbara Police Department has had success with restorative policing, but under Brown's tenure "that hasn't happened."

Partnering with nonprofit groups and giving deputies more resources to deal with the mentally ill would be key, which she said would be looked at immediately if she is elected.

Sandra Brown said that with 18 or 19 custody deputies working with over 1,000 inmates, "they're running from fire to fire to fire in our jail."

"If we want to see good mental-health care, we need to make sure the staffing ratio is increased," she said.

Another problem is that deputies have been taken off the streets to serve in the jail and have not been trained properly, she said.

The new jail will feature an outpatient clinic, a dental clinic and an inpatient facility for 32 beds, Bill Brown said.

"However, this is not a PHF (psychiatric health facility)," he said, and won't take the place of what's needed for people in crisis.

When asked if morale is low, Bill Brown said his department has suffered the worst cuts in its history, while the work hasn't gone away, nor the expectations from the public.

"They're up the job and deliver the service people in this county expect," he said

Sandra Brown took a different angle, saying the department is down 41 positions that are fully funded.

"We're seeing correction deputies working six days a week. … That's a morale issue and a health issue," she said.

In her closing statement, Sandra Brown said she wanted be proactive, not chase problems.

"We need to set up our enforcement and administrations for being problems solvers and forward thinkers," she said. "Make sure you check the right Brown box."

Bill Brown closed the forum, reminding the audience again of his endorsements, and asked voters to re-elect him to "keep Santa Barbara County the wonderful place that it is."

Second District supervisor candidates Roger Aceves and Janet Wolf participated in a forum Wednesday night, also hosted by the League of Women Voters. Click here for Noozhawk's full report.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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