Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 11:09 pm | Fair 62º


Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow’s Response to Vagrant Disturbances on State Street

Last Tuesday, the Santa Barbara Police Department presented a public-safety update to the City Council. I was pleased to share that year-to-date violent crime and property crime throughout the city are trending down — when compared to the subsequent two years. 

Today, when a constituent needs help and dials 9-1-1, we’re able to respond even faster than last year – consistently addressing priority-one calls in about 6 minutes flat. We expect this trend to continue as we have welcomed 12 new officers, swelling our ranks to 141 sworn personnel. 

All of this is attributed to our department’s commitment to a service-first approach — working in unison with civic stakeholders to implement a proactive community-oriented policing initiative. 

During the council meeting, an ensuing dialogue occurred regarding vagrant disturbances on State Street. It was advised that some in the transient population were intimidating and harassing tourist, residents, and downtown business owners.

I share the exasperation — we must all work together to ensure that State Street, our crown-jewel, remains an eclectic and welcoming place to live, work, and recreate. 

Consequently, I took action and directed additional police resources to the State Street corridor for an immediate short-term intervention. That strategy, active now, includes deploying two officers, seven days a week, to a dedicated downtown foot-patrol — responding specifically to citizen concerns.

This campaign aims to be highly visible and implements both an education and enforcement component. In addition, stepped-up police activation includes our downtown bicycle units, beat coordinators, restorative unit, regular police patrols and community service officers who will continue their duties on State Street as additional public safety ambassadors. 

That said, it’s important to point out a distinction between the unsheltered and criminals.

It’s not illegal to be homeless. We cannot solely arrest our way out of this challenge. Each police interaction on State Street will be unique. While enforcing the law, we will handle each contact with empathy. 

In the last five years, our department’s Restorative Policing Unit, a bureau that interfaces directly with the unsheltered to provide a link to social services, collaborated with more than 630 transients in need of assistance.

Over the course of the last month, we’ve helped more than 20 reunite with family, obtain housing, or enroll in specifically tailored programs. 

A long-term solution includes bringing to the table a consortium of players. I welcome the opportunity to tackle this issue head-on partnered with our community leaders, business advocates, mental health professionals, faith community, homeless outreach, the administration and other relevant city departments.

While the Santa Barbara Police Department will remain vigilant — this task and its eventual accomplishments remain in the hands of a city-wide effort.

Lori Luhnow is police chief in the city of Santa Barbara.

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