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Goleta’s New Police Chief Continues His Climb Up the Ranks

For Phil Willis, his life has always been about building a career in law enforcement.

Some people find careers they weren’t even looking for; others switch from career to career during the course of their lives. For Lt. Phil Willis, Goleta’s newest police chief, his life has always been about a career in law enforcement.

“I’ve wanted to be in law enforcement all my life,” the Bishop Diego High School graduate said. “I was even in the explorer program in high school.”

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Goleta Police Chief Phil Willis
Willis made good on his aspirations when he was hired in 1980 into the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department as a correctional officer. Since then, he has worked his way up the ranks, enjoying himself on the way.

“Every assignment and every rank, there are always unique rewards and opportunities,” he said. “So every assignment I’ve had provides different rewards in different ways.”

The biggest reward for him, however, is not necessarily catching the bad guy.

“The most rewarding thing for me is to watch people who have had difficult lives turn themselves around and become successful members of society,” he said.

Before his appointment as Goleta’s third chief of police, Willis served in two other cities that contract with Santa Barbara County to provide law enforcement services: Solvang and Carpinteria. He will take his experience working with those communities into the city of Goleta, which he said already has a strong relationship with its law enforcement.

“The city is very supportive of its motor unit; it’s a commitment emotionally and financially that they’ve made,” Willis said. Goleta has four full-time motorcycle officers as part of its contract with the county, though Goleta residents won’t see their new police chief astride any of those machines.

“I’m a little too old for that,” he joked. “I’ve already had my close calls.”

Instead, he will either be in the office coordinating his department with the city’s operations, or out on the field — in a police car.

Looking ahead to 2009, Willis will carry on the work started by the city’s second police chief, Lt. Chris Pappas, who has been assigned to the department’s training bureau. Pappas served as the Goleta police chief for four years, including the time in January 2006 when a deranged shooter shot and killed several people at the mail processing station on Storke Road before turning the gun on herself.

As the city grows, however, so will crimes related to a denser, more urban population, Willis said. The Goleta police, for instance, have just begun to uncover evidence of a prostitution operation in the area.

“It’s prevalent everywhere, and nobody’s immune to it,” Willis said of the mostly Internet-based operation. Most of the people involved, he said, come from the Los Angeles area.

Willis is busy settling into his new position, but it won’t be evident for a few months whether it’ll be a temporary or permanent one.

“Officially I’m here temporarily,” he said. The Goleta chief of police position has historically been a temporary assignment, with officers rotating into and out of the job.

“We’re waiting until March of 2009 to arrive to see if it’s going to be a permanent assignment,” Willis said.

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