Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown briefed the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce‘s Issue and Policy Roundtable last week, announcing that his department had just taken possession of a 50-acre parcel of land in Santa Maria to be used for a future North County jail. Negotiations for the property had been ongoing for months, so Brown was pleased to report the milestone in the process to build a new 300-bed facility.

In explaining some of the current challenges faced by the Sheriff’s Department, Brown said tens of thousands of inmate trips are made every year between the South Coast and the North County. He said solving the overcrowding at the jail is a top priority of his and that he believed in a balanced approach to the problem. While an increase in capacity is critically needed, Brown also stressed both prevention and intervention as key to reducing the number of inmates.

As part of that balanced approach, Brown explained that he is working on a partnership with the state to locate a re-entry facility in the county to house 500 inmates in their last year of incarceration. The county could then apply bonus funds from that project toward the construction of the new North County jail. The county would still have to raise nearly $30 million in matching funds.

Citing a tenet of law enforcement that the “police are the public, and the public are the police,” Brown stressed that his department is “prevention oriented.” He pointed to the new Goleta police station at Camino Real Marketplace as evidence of his department’s commitment to “community policing.”

California’s budget crisis continues to threaten local programs, but Brown reassured Goleta’s business leaders that the city of Goleta would not feel impacts should forced budget cuts be made at the Sheriff’s Department.

Tom Blabey is public policy director at the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.