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Local News

Santa Barbara Police Will Test Body Cameras, Consider Equipping Officers

The Santa Barbara Police Department has plans to test body-worn cameras for officers and then decide whether to move forward with a full-scale program, Chief Cam Sanchez told the City Council on Tuesday. 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department is testing similar cameras, but no other agencies in Santa Barbara County are currently using the cameras, Sanchez said. 

The cost of the cameras are between $600 and $900 each, and the department has not budgeted for the cost. 

"We're going to be evaluating this very heavily in the following months," he said. "We believe they're important for the community and the Police Department."

Sanchez confirmed that an investigation was ongoing on the officer suspected of knocking a phone out of a bystander's hand, but would not give any more details.

Police officials also updated the council on property crime rates, police department staffing and party buses. 

Deputy Chief Frank Mannix said the department is seeing a slight increase in violent crime. There is also a significant increase in property crime — a 60 percent increase since last August — which represents a "disturbing trend for us," he said.

The department sees an average of 132 property crimes per month, but the past three months have yielded higher numbers: January saw 146 thefts, 136 occurred in February, and 149 took place in March.

Mannix said that he felt that Prop. 47 has had an effect, the law voters passed in November that reduces some non-violent crimes to misdemeanors from felonies. 

"Shoplifting used to be a felony," he said. "Now that crime has been decriminalized to a misdemeanor."

Capt. Alex Altavilla talked about residential burglaries in the city, a total of 26 this year, many of which have been in the San Roque, Riviera and Bel Air Knolls neighborhoods.

He encouraged neighbors to call and report suspicious activity.

"If they think something looks out of place, we would prefer to have them go ahead and call," Altavilla said.

Some citizen observations have lead to huge breakthroughs in the cases, he said. 

The City Council also got an update on efforts to hire more Community Service Officer positions, slated to patrol the downtown corridor. People urged the department to move forward with filling those positions quickly, during public comment. 

All five of the CSOs will be attending a police powers training class and should graduate by the end of May, so they can start working downtown.

Capt. Gilbert Torres said four new police officers graduated the academy April 10 and are in the department's field training program. They are expected to start patrol duties in August.

The department is still working to fill vacant positions for officers, dispatchers and parking enforcement. The department is a seeing a 47-percent decrease in applications for officer positions, Torres suggested that it could be partly due to national news stories about policing, citing civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.

The SBPD is also competing with other city and county agencies. "It's very competitive," Torres said. "It's a difficult job and its getting more difficult as time goes on."

After a question from Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, Torres said that the department will be issuing a training bulletin on the new sit/lie ordinance, which goes into effect May 22.

"The sooner the better, I think," Hotchkiss said.

The department is authorized to hire 144 sworn employees, but after subtracting the number of officers that are injured, in field training or on leave, there are about 118 officers showing up to work each day, Mannix said.

Three beat coordinators have been removed from their beats and reassigned to patrol, but Sanchez said his goal is to return to the five beat coordinators when staffing is increased.

Sanchez also said that the city's one school resource officer was promoted to detective, and the position will not be filled right now

"On the Eastside I have no beat coordinator," he said, adding that Santa Barbara High School may have an assigned part-time officer that will also work the Eastside neighborhood. 

"We're hoping we can resurrect it in the fall," Sanchez said of the school resource officer position.

Sanchez also mentioned the recent incident of underage drinking on party buses, and told the City Council about the recent meeting held with local charter bus companies and the California Public Utilities Commission. 

The department will also be distributing posters around town reminding young people not to drink or disobey the law during prom season.

"It's just a friendly reminder that they are underage," he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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