Santa Barbara Police Department patrol car.
An outside auditor has recommended that the Santa Barbara Police Department revise its use-of-force policy to state that the pointing of a firearm at an individual is a reportable use of force. Credit: Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo

The Santa Barbara Police Department will have to cut its budget by $2.3 million for next year to make up for the projected economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic

Police Chief Lori Luhnow said the department already has “let go” of 18 hourly employees to reach some savings. 

“The greatest impact of losing those positions will probably be felt at our front counter,” Luhnow said at this week’s police department budget hearing.

Luhnow said the city will have to reduce hours or days of the week that it is open to the public. It also plans to eliminate the SNAP (Student Neighborhood Assistant Program), which uses paid students to respond to noise complaints. Luhnow said police officers will fill those roles. 

To make up for the rest of the projected budget losses, Luhnow said she will not hire for an open administrative specialist, two police sergeants, a police lieutenant and three officer positions. Those positions have been open since December 2019, she said.

In addition, the department no longer will run a sobering center downtown. Instead, it will contract with Santa Barbara County at its sobering center, saving about $260,000.

Luhnow said she also expects to save money on staffing for the Fourth of July. The city already canceled its fireworks celebration. The police department plans to save even more with the annual Fiesta celebration turning virtual, without a parade or any of the additional large gatherings.

“If the COVID pandemic continues to reduce large-scale events, we’re able to potentially find additional, approximately $344,000 in savings,” Luhnow said. 

The police department has about a $47 million budget and took a hit this fiscal year from a loss of revenue from parking citations, fines, permits and licenses, half-cent sales tax, and other fees. 

It has about 211 employees and 141 sworn officers. About 88 percent of the department’s budget is made of personnel — salaries and benefits. 

City Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said she was impressed with the amount work carried out by the police department. 

“We’re so grateful for what you and all your officers do,” Harmon said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.