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Santa Barbara police respond to increased crime during stay home order and outreach to youth

Santa Barbara Police scene
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara Police say there has been an increase in crime since the coronavirus "Stay at Home" order and many people out of school and work. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Police scene Santa Barbara
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara Police say there has been an increase in crime since the coronavirus "Stay at Home" order and many people out of school and work. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Santa Barbara Police
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara Police say there has been an increase in crime since the coronavirus "Stay at Home" order and many people out of school and work. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Santa Barbara Police shooting scene
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara Police say there has been an increase in crime since the coronavirus "Stay at Home" order and many people out of school and work. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Santa Barbara Police response
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara Police say there has been an increase in crime since the coronavirus "Stay at Home" order and many people out of school and work. (Photo: John Palminteri)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara City leaders have laid out a multi-level plan to address crime, community assistance, homelessness and youth activities during the coronavirus.

A special meeting was held Monday afternoon and recorded for the city's web site in English and Spanish.

It addressed the "uptick" in crime as described by Police Chief Lori Luhnow and issues with the early release of about 300 jail inmates recently. She also said the department is on a full patrol schedule seven days a week, including the use of command staff.

Recently there have been three stabbings, and a non-fatal shooting incident at an occupied vehicle.

Luhnow said most citizens are following the rules and should not engage anyone in a criminal act. That's what the police are for.
"Our officers are out on the street, in fact I have been told by many they have never seen so many officers. I think that's a great thing. So we are out there. We are actually making a lot of arrests. We are holding people accountable," she said.

Officer Adrian Gutierrez has been going to the labor line and speaking to groups in Spanish, also handing them information flyers about washing hand, physical distancing and wearing masks.

At parks, the larger groups from two weeks ago do not exist anymore.

"You go over now and there's only two or three people now on the benches and they say ' we're away from each other !' so it has been a positive. I have not heard any negatives," he said.

Mayor Cathy Murillo went through a detailed list of city services and actions underway now including effort to help the youth stay focused on their studies and community projects. Some volunteer opportunities are available with rewards including gift cars from Sams to Go, South Coast Deli and Super Cucas.

"That gives them new skills teaches them discipline and gives them a sense of purpose during this difficult time," said Murillo.

A refocused effort on the homeless comes with different approaches.
For now camps will not be broken up but the new effort includes a 68-bed hotel that is now in use for those on the streets who are over 65 and at risk   first,  then those with serious health conditions and then those over 65.

Laura Dubbels Housing and Human Services manager Laura Dubbels said, "all of the occupants will be non Covid-19 individuals so they have not tested positive for the virus and they will be one of the three categories."

The youth issues are a priority for Saul Serrano, South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety who also spoke on his efforts to keep gang activity low during this critical time. Intervention and prevention are top priorities.

Councilmembers Alejandra Gutierrez and Oscar Gutierrez said they are working on programs to unite the West and East side youth who have had conflicts. The councilmembers are both locally raised and know many of the moving parts to reach families, community leaders, faith-based contacts and some of the adults who connect with the at-risk kids.

Alejandra the effort was to "build a bridge" and improve the quality of life for the youth.

Oscar Gutierrez also reminded the public that those who are contacting the police about crimes will not be asked immigration related questions. Their names can also be anonymous.


Several stabbings, gunfire and smash-and-grab crimes have been reported in Santa Barbara in the last month during the COVID-19 shelter-at-home rules, and it has the police department adjusting its response.

Chief Lori Luhnow will talk more about the recent crime numbers later today and answer questions about the department's response.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting she said,  "It is a balancing act."    

Over the weekend two officers were injured arresting an armed suspect who was described as combative. 

On Easter Sunday, gunshots were fired into an occupied vehicle on Punta Gorda and Salinas Street.     

Numerous patrol officers and the command staff were dispatched to the scene along with a site several blocks away where a trio of possible suspects were stopped in an SUV at gunpoint.

An arrest was made last week involving the SWAT team at a Goleta address.

"We are seeing an uptick in crime that we don't enjoy seeing," said Luhnow. "I plan on compiling a comprehensive list that clarifies the change that we have seen." 

The list is expected to show some of the crimes involving youth, who are home now because of the school campus closures.

Business is not usual with Luhnow saying the department is "transitioning through finding a way to do this safely for all of us."

At times officers have to put on special safety gear. Every call is prioritized.  

"Emergency calls in progress, we are responding to. We are trying to do it safely, so that we don't get exposed or expose our community," Luhnow said.

Santa Barbara City Councilman Mike Jordan said, "This is not a time for people to be going out policing their neighborhood."

Luhnow says people should avoid confrontations and "value yourself over property." She said the police department will do crime enforcement and they are not "requesting our community to do that for us."

She did say some of the calls and safety issues are creating new challenges. 

"There are certain situations that are frustrating for us to not being able to manage right now."

In a direct message to citizens, she said the department is asking people to be patient.

"We have a lot of people on the streets that were in custody in the last few months," said Luhnow in reference to the early release program from jails. "Some of the criminal element are looking for means to survive, I hate to say."

"We all saw on KEYT windows being smashed and that sort of thing," Councilmember Kristin Sneddon said.

City leaders have urged citizens to "Stay Well at Home" and only go outside for exercise and essential services.

"Our law abiding citizens understand they need to be inside," said Luhnow.

Article Topic Follows: Crime & Courts
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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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