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Local News

Santa Maria Police Chief Plans To Leave Job Next Month

Ralph Martin retiring after leading department for 5 years and through rebuilding, tumultuous times

Santa Maria Police Chief, seen here last year announcing a major gang sweep, announced Wednesday that he is retiring next month. Click to view larger
Santa Maria Police Chief, seen here last year announcing a major gang sweep, announced Wednesday that he is retiring next month. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Five years after taking the helm of a Santa Maria Police Department in disarray, Chief Ralph Martin announced Wednesday that he is retiring.

Martin plans to leave the department June 23, ending a stint focused on reforming and rebuilding the department.

He also oversaw the move into the state-of-the-art police station, and led the force while it undertook one of the largest law enforcement operations in its history.

“We have a very capable, enthusiastic, professional team in place, with a modern facility and community support,” Martin said.

“I am confident that we have the right personnel, protocols, and organizational structure to ensure the Santa Maria Police Department will maintain its high standards and dedication to protecting the community.”

He will retire with more than 40 years in law enforcement. Before coming to Santa Maria, he worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin came to the city amid a department in turmoil after a botched investigation into an officer having a sexual relationship with a member of the Police Explorers led to the fatal shooting of Albert Covarrubias Jr., who pointed his service weapon at his colleagues at a DUI/driver’s license checkpoint . 

First hired to be interim chief when Danny Macagni abruptly retired in the aftermath of the Covarrubias shooting, Martin later accepted the permanent job.

“Chief Martin has been the quintessential change agent for the Police Department and for the city as an organization; his level of professionalism is unmatched,” City Manager Rick Haydon said. 

“He came to the city knowing that he was taking over a department that was in turmoil, morale was at an all-time low, and there was divisiveness within its ranks,” Haydon said. “He quickly came in, rolled-up his sleeves, and drawing from his extensive years in law enforcement, systematically turned around the department to what it is today – the premier law enforcement agency on the Central Coast.”

His tenure also involved implementing dozens of recommendations made during an independent audit of the agency. 

In 2016, Santa Maria police coordinated with eight other agencies to undertake Operation Matador –  an operation city officials say halted a violent crime wave by arresting 17 alleged members of the violent MS-13 gang, many of whom were suspected to committing multiple homicides.

While Martin’s tenure has drawn mostly praise, he did receive criticism for the department issuing a fake news release, an action he maintained needed to be done to save the lives of two people targeted by the gang.

Martin restructured the department and changed the command staff, with 90 percent of the department’s leaders having been hired by the chief.

Since he joined the department, Martin hired 90 new personnel, including 68 officers and 22 professional staff. He also boosted the number of detectives from five to 15.

“The department I inherited required changes, then healing, then reforms – and we did all of that,” Martin said. “We are healthier. Morale is high. We are engaged and proactive."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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