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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 9:18 am | Fair 47º


Santa Barbara Police Chief Outlines Department’s Recruitment, Homeless Challenges

In presentation to City Council, Lori Luhnow notes difficulties in hiring new officers, handling homelessness problems

Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, seen with City Manager Paul Casey.
Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, seen with City Manager Paul Casey, gave a presentation to the City Council Tuesday outlining frustrations with hiring new officers and how to solve the city’s homeless problems. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A competitive hiring market, less-physically-fit applicants, and millennials with a "short-term mindset" are among the recruitment and retention challenges for the Santa Barbara Police Department. 

Police Chief Lori Luhnow gave the City Council a 34-page slide show presentation on Tuesday, in which she patted the department on its back, and also explained frustrations with hiring new officers and how to solve the city's homeless problems.

"We can't get anywhere unless we keep our people," Luhnow said. 

Luhnow swept into City Hall from San Diego in June 2016, the replacement for former chief Cam Sanchez, who retired after 15 years of employment.

Shortly thereafter in 2017, she eliminated a deputy chief position and hired civilian Anthony Wagner, also from San Diego, to serve as the city's public engagement manager.

On Tuesday she said the department has experienced challenges with hiring new officers. The Department has 142 budgeted sworn positions, of which 132 are filled. About 20 officers are of retirement age.

She boasted of the department's hiring of four new community volunteers, Hap Freund, Eliot Jacobson, Alina Kleemaier and Sarah Stewart, who were present at the meeting to receive acknowledgement by the council. 

The volunteers help with "quality of life" patrols, such as monitoring illegal gas-powered leaf blowers, disabled parking enforcement, smoking, skateboarding and bicycling on sidewalks — jobs that help free up sworn officers to focus on more serious crimes.

They also can help with traffic incidents and homeless welfare checks. 

The Santa Barbara Police Department’s community volunteers. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Police Department’s community volunteers help with ‘quality of life’ patrols. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

In terms of crime statistics, violent crimes rose from 575 in 2017 to 585 in 2018. Homicides increased from one to two in those years. Robbery cases increased from 88 to 102.

Many other crimes decreased. Residential burglaries fell from 182 in 2017 to 128 in 2018. Commercial burglaries dropped from 164 to 119.

Among the biggest challenges, however, is the homeless population.

Illegal camping calls increased by 8 percent from 2017 to 2018; loitering and lewd-conduct calls rose by 13 percent.

The Police Deparment cleaned up 51 camps in 2018. Overall, it had issued 1,788 nuisance violations in 2018, including 63 for sitting on the sidewalk, 45 for urinating in public, 73 for loitering in city-owned parking lots, and 23 for unlawful areas to camp.

Mayor Cathy Murillo noted that there's a perceived rise in homelessness in 2019 because so many people are looking for shelter under bridges because of the weather.

"We want rain, but it's giving us a lot of challenges," Murillo said. 

Luhnow also said that it was important for the department to "tell our own story," before other media outlets do.

She showed a slide featuring the department's social media followers, including 12,100 on Instagram, 1,599 on Twitter and 6,011 on Facebook.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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