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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 9:49 am | Overcast 58º


Cynder Sinclair: Police Chief Sanchez Declares We Can’t Wipe Out Homelessness

Olivia first spotted him sitting on a bench as she and her husband, Cam, were shopping on State Street. His tattered clothes, disheveled hair and distinct odor told her he was homeless. His shoes barely covered his grubby feet.

“Come with me, young man,” said Olivia. “We’re going in here to buy you some shoes.” Cam followed his wife and the astonished young man into Nordstrom where Olivia informed the sales clerk she wanted to buy a new pair of shoes for the man.

As the three walked out of Nordstrom, with the young man sporting his new shoes as well as new pants and shirt, Olivia asked him if he was hungry. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten, so she took him into The Habit for a hamburger.

Her prodding revealed he had not seen a movie in a very long time, so she bought him a ticket to see a film at the Paseo Nuevo movie theater. Olivia and Cam continued their shopping trip as the young man walked into the theater, still reeling from his good fortune.

“That’s just how Olivia is,” Cam explained.

That simple, yet unusual story reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Mother Teresa. “We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.”

Our extremely successful yet compassionate Chief of Police, Camerino Sanchez, adamantly declares that we will never be successful in completely eradicating homelessness, but we must be faithful every day in trying to save all we can. Sanchez has been in law enforcement for 36 years, 23 years as our Chief of Police.

I recently had the honor of interviewing Sanchez to discover how this long-time public servant can be simultaneously so tough minded and tender hearted. You may be surprised at his practical yet optimistic perspective on this complex issue.

The Homeless Are Here to Stay

Some think we can wipe out homelessness here, but we can’t. Many homeless individuals are mentally ill and living on our streets.

We must continue to do our best to work with these people. They commit very few crimes. I understand people don’t like them living on the street or parking in front of their houses. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

Closing the mental hospitals back in the 1970s started this problem. I love Reagan but he made an unfortunate decision on this, a decision that contributed greatly to the high number of homeless individuals who need mental health services. But they aren’t receiving the help they need.

There are also many who resist our efforts to help; so they are in our parks and downtown. Unless they commit a crime that keeps them in jail, they won’t get much attention. We need to address this problem as best we can, not shoo them off to the next city so as to sweep it under the rug.

The Advantages of Nonprofit Partnership

I want to see the Police Department and City continue to partner with nonprofits like we have for 15 years. Over the years there are many success stories and many sad stories.

My favorites are the stories of family reunification. Many families do want their homeless family members to come home.

We can’t arrest ourselves out of the problem of homelessness and we can’t do it by coming up with more laws. We can’t force them to take their meds; all we can do is offer the resource.

Most take advantage of the resources but it’s the quarter that are resistant to services who cause the problem; but unless they are arrested we can’t force the services on them.

I encourage people not to give money to the homeless. You don’t know them and they will probably buy alcohol or drugs. So give them a hamburger.

Many nonprofits are doing a great job addressing these problems. We need to be grateful we ourselves aren’t in that situation.

There are some that take advantage of the system but most do not. Our beautiful weather attracts them.

Restorative Policing 

I am so proud of our seven Restorative Police officers. They go into the homeless camps to clean them up and they do it with a good spirit even though it’s really tough.

Many think Restorative Policing is a new practice, but Sir Robert Peel started this movement back in the 1800s when the British government tasked him with professionalizing law enforcement.

He said police must attend to the needs of youth, homeless, poor and hungry in each community. He also established the first police academy and set standards of criteria for character and behavior for police officers.

The state and federal government do very little to assist municipalities with this issue. It should be a budgeted item for them.

Municipalities don’t have enough resources to deal with this problem alone, but we will continue to fight and help as many as possible. We will save all we can.

PTSD and the Young Vets Suffering From It

It’s sad to see so many veterans who have PTSD and are homeless and have alcohol and drug issues. It’s tragic that we ask young people to lay their lives on the line and then come home and wait months to see a professional at the VA.

Twenty-two percent of our Santa Barbara homeless are veterans from the most current war. It’s so sad to see 30 year old homeless vets in our parks.

We should be ashamed at how we treat our veterans. The federal government needs to step it up in a big way. The VA has made some improvements but they have a long way to go.

Most won’t go to a shelter because they are claustrophobic. They were in a hole or a tent for months; they can’t go into a shelter.

We have identified these individuals and we know where they hang out and we check on them daily to do what we can. Sometimes we drive them to the VA in Bakersfield or Los Angeles.

Cam Sanchez

A Retirement Filled With Travel, Writing and Teaching.

After serving our community for 36 years, Sanchez is retiring Feb. 19, 2015, two days shy of his birthday.

“But I’m not retiring so I can do nothing,” he insists. “Maybe I’ll teach part time or consult.”  

He and his wife, Olivia, plan on taking some cruises and visiting places in the U.S. they haven’t seen. He’s also looking forward to finishing a book he’s writing which he started a while ago but found it hard to finish since he works so many hours.

Sanchez says he feels like he’s on retreat when he writes because writing relaxes him and he finds it so enjoyable. He talks into his recorder as he leisurely walks along East Beach and then transcribes it when he returns to his home office, which looks out onto his beautiful backyard pool.

He didn’t know for sure if his book was good enough, so he showed a rough draft to his friend and local mystery writer, Sue Grafton, for her opinion.

“That’s a winner,” exclaimed Grafton. “You’ve got to finish it... hurry up!”

“When someone like Sue says you must keep writing, you know you are doing a good job,” says Sanchez. Grafton advised Sanchez to just write one page a day whenever he gets tired, but keep writing.

Intrigued to discover our Police Chief is a writer, I asked more about his book. It’s a novel about young people who make good choices in spite of life’s temptations and challenges.

All the characters share names of real people in his life — many were childhood friends and one is a grandmother’s name.

It’s all about good choices. He hasn’t given the book a title yet. For now he’s just happy writing even if it doesn’t get published.

Grafton agreed to write the introduction.

Sanchez started another book 15 years ago about his grandfather’s experiences in the Mexican Revolution.

“I interviewed my grandfather when I was an undergrad college student, but never finished it," says Sanchez.

He even spent time in the Mexican archives to confirm dates his grandfather couldn’t remember. So the research is completed and this book is nearly ready to go but he set it aside to finish his novel. Once that is done, he will get back to the book about his grandfather.

Sanchez’s grandfather was a peasant in the Mexican army and the Mexican Revolution started as soon as he finished basic training, so he was fighting against Pancho Villa and his own people.  

“My grandfather died at 101 and was a big influence on my life,” explains Sanchez. “He taught me perseverance and work hard.”

We appreciate this dedicated public servant and will miss his tough-minded, tender-hearted, yet practical approach to law enforcement.

Camerino Sanchez was appointed to the position of Chief of Police for the Santa Barbara Police Department in November 2000. Prior to this appointment, he served as Chief of Police of San Rafael Police Department (1997 to 2000) and Hollister Police Department (1993 to 1997).

Camerino Sanchez began his law enforcement career in 1981 when he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. In the LAPD, he served as a police officer, detective and sergeant.  

Chief Camerino Sanchez holds a bachelor's degree in public administration and a master's in human resources and organizational development.

Chief of Police Camerino Sanchez has been the President of the California Police Chiefs Association. He has also served with the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Cal-Chiefs Executive Board.

He is the recipient of numerous community service and association awards. Camerino Sanchez contributed to Law Enforcement, Communication and Community.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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