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Santa Barbara Police Relocate Briefings to Combat Gang Intimidation of Residents

In monthly update to the City Council, Police Chief Cam Sanchez also calls Sunday's Fiesta bike ride 'an unmanageable mess'

Santa Barbara patrol officers hold their shift briefings at the Franklin Community Center now, since many families are being intimidated by gang members in the area, Police Chief Cam Sanchez said Tuesday in his monthly update to the City Council.

Sanchez said gang members reportedly tell families that Franklin Park, the Franklin Community Center, the Eastside Branch Library and the Franklin Clinic on Montecito Street belong only to them.

He called the intimidation ridiculous and unacceptable, and said many people have come up to him — especially when he was out and about this weekend for Old Spanish Days Fiesta — upset about the issue. He said briefings at the community center and parking lots, which started Tuesday morning, hopefully will help families be able to use those facilities.

Sanchez said crime has been “quiet” with gangs, helped by collaboration with community groups and citizens who are calling police sooner rather than later. He said there was a gang-related assault across the street from the Franklin Center on July 31 that is still being investigated.

In other updates, he said the department hopes to send 10 people to the police academy in October and pick a vendor for patrol car camera systems by the end of August. Santa Barbara is one of two departments in the county without an audio-video camera system in patrol vehicles, and the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recommended that the departments purchase them as soon as possible.

Fiesta, as Noozhawk reported Monday, was a quiet one for law enforcement, according to Santa Barbara police. Sanchez said there were many low-level citations and arrests, but no violent crimes committed. Other agencies helped Wednesday through Sunday, and the Santa Barbara department logged 2,900 hours of overtime, compared with 4,000 for Fiesta in 2011.

Sunday’s controversial Fiesta bike ride drew 1,200 to 1,400 people for a ride from Stearns Wharf to Goleta and back, much to the frustration of police and motorists. That’s hundreds more than last year, by the Police Department’s estimation. Sanchez said officers were outnumbered 100 to 1.

“This is a mess, to say the least,” he said. “They refuse to play by the rules, and they do not take permits out. Basically, it’s a blog invitation; it’s put out to the world, they meet at the dolphin fountain and go.”

He said 10 officers were assigned to the ride Sunday and that many people were given citations, though few are ever arrested.

“They just cause havoc around town and it has become sort of unmanageable,” Sanchez said.

The department partnered with the Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol but may need to increase resources for the ride next year. Three or four years ago, according to Sanchez, some people were arrested after they interfered with traffic and “took on officers physically” when confronted, but that hasn’t happened since.

Council members were visibly frustrated, telling stories of being stuck in traffic and seeing close calls between vehicles and bicyclists.

Councilman Dale Francisco said it’s only a matter of time until serious injury or death happens, as he saw a steady stream of bicyclists ride up State Street through multiple red lights.

“I think we as a city can’t allow this kind of mass law-breaking to go forward,” Francisco said. “Either people in this ride get a permit for what they want to do, or it doesn’t happen. We wouldn’t allow this with anything else that happens at Fiesta.”

“If we tell them not to come, more will come,” Sanchez said, suggesting that the city try to manage as best it can. Ideally, he said, the group would get permits, but there’s no real leadership for the event.

“We’d love to stop it completely,” Sanchez said, “but I’m not sure we can.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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