Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown, right, takes a moment with retired sheriff Jim Vizzolini Tuesday night at Brown’s election night party at Courthouse Tavern in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown, right, takes a moment with retired sheriff Jim Vizzolini Tuesday night at Brown’s election night party at Courthouse Tavern in Santa Barbara.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Sheriff Bill Brown was re-elected by Santa Barbara County voters Tuesday with 56.7% of the vote in semi-official election night results over Lt. Juan Camarena, who received 42.9% of the vote. 

The Santa Barbara County Elections Office results included 44,824 vote-by-mail ballots and 4,464 ballots cast or dropped off at polling centers for a combined 20.9% countywide voter turnout.  

The June 7 primary election results will be updated as more ballots are received and counted, and the official results will be certified by July 7.

Brown served as Lompoc’s police chief before being elected Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner in 2006.

He ran unopposed in 2010 and has faced challengers from his own Sheriff’s Department in every following re-election bid, including Sgt. Sandra Brown in 2014 (no relation), Lt. Brian Olmstead and Lt. Eddie Hsueh in 2018; and Camarena in 2022.

Camarena grew up in Santa Maria and joined the United States Marine Corps after high school. He later joined the Sheriff’s Department as a custody deputy, worked as station commander of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, and then moved to the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

“You never know, I never take the voters for granted, I never take any of it for granted,” Brown said Tuesday night at his election party with supporters at Courthouse Tavern in Santa Barbara. 

“My hope is that things come through my way, and I get another four years at least in this position that I love and I’ve really given my all to the last 15 years, and so we’ll have to see what happens tonight. We’re waiting with bated breath,” Brown said.

Brown says he wants to “fine tune the new jail” and “make sure it’s run the way it’s supposed to be run” with proposed educational, vocational, animal training and substance abuse treatment programs for people in custody.

The goal of programs like this is to help people in custody be successful when they return to the community, Brown said.

He also said the department has a lot of challenges, including budget, staffing, and crime levels. 

In the campaign leading up to this election, Camarena said the Sheriff’s Office “has been stagnant and reactive” and needs to change, while Brown said “seasoned leadership, and proven leadership, is really essential in getting through the tumultuous issues we are facing.”

The Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Santa Barbara Police Officers Association, Santa Barbara County Firefighters Association and Tri-Counties Peace Officer Research Associates of California groups endorsed Camarena in the Sheriff-Coroner election, while Brown was endorsed by a long list of local elected officials and law enforcement personnel from throughout the county, the state and the country.

Sheriff-Coroner is one of Santa Barbara County’s five elected department heads. Click here for election results for other county officials on the Tuesday ballot. 

During his tenure as Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner, Brown pursued grant funding for building the Northern Branch Jail near Santa Maria, which finished construction and opened earlier this year; and managed the department during state realignment, which caused more prison sentences to be served in local jails.

The department’s pilot program of co-response teams, which pair up deputies with behavioral health clinicians to respond to mental-health-related 9-1-1 calls for service, was fully funded by county supervisors and expanded to include multiple teams.

Also during his time in charge, the department has consistently been spending millions of dollars over budget for overtime staffing costs due to issues recruiting and retaining enough people to fill all of the positions, especially in the custody operations.

The county is now operating two jail facilities for about the same number of people in custody as when the county was operating one jail, the older, larger Main Jail near Santa Barbara.

The Sheriff’s Office data dashboard shows 750 to 850 people were held in custody throughout April, with about a third of them in the Northern Branch Jail.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.