SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Santa Barbara Police department is going through changes in the ranks and in its ability to have open events again.
With a small ceremony for family and staff, five promotions will be taking place today.
Police Chief Barney Melekian will be swearing in Allan Tuazon, Antonio Montojo, Charles Venable and Stephanie Trujillo to Sergeant and Sergeant Bryan Jensen to Lieutenant.
Events like this have not been taking place due to the COVID rules in the last year, but now, with the easing of restrictions, some limited participating has been allowed.
This comes about two months after the departure of former Chief Lori Luhnow, who retired after five years.
At the ceremony, Melekian said, "it is no secret that our profession is at a cross roads and we stand in the most challenging times any of us have ever seen."
He stressed the commitment to officers have made to themselves, their families, the community and the department.
On the streets, Melekian has been watching the interaction officers have with the public. "I have been particularly struck by the humanity of the officers who work here," he said. "When you consider some of the issues we deal with around homelessness and mental illness and those challenges, there is a commitment to service you don't see everywhere."
Melekian said all of the officers know community outreach will be important going forward and often they are judged by public perceptions and how they perform their job throughout the city. He spoke to them with encouragement and the ability to use the leadership skills they have developed throughout their careers.
Several of the officers either served in the military or worked for other departments before coming to Santa Barbara.
"I think what is unfortunate is the actions of thousands and thousands of American police officers are being judged by a few but that is the time we are in and that's the time we have to deal with," said Melekian.
He hopes those scrutinizing the department will, at some time, get to know the officers better."
" I would want them to take the time to talk to the officers that they see and to recognize that we all share a humanity, a common humanity and we really need to get to dialed in to that." Melekian also said outreach will be taking place citywide. "What people want is to know the officers who are protecting them and I think you will see more and more of that in the next few months."
Rising through the ranks required strict testing in the field and an interview with the chief.
The department also has a new interim Communications Sergeant, Ethan Ragsdale. He is the acting Public Information Officer, during the absence of Anthony Wagner who is on a paid administrative leave.
Ragdale has gone through the process of promotion. "It is an absolutely grueling process and these men and women did an outstanding job," he said. All had field training in their roles as part of the evaluation.
Melekian is the former Undersheriff for Santa Barbara County and a former Chief of Police in Pasadena. Prior to this temporary appointment he was an assistant to the County of Santa Barbara CEO Mona Miyasato and handled public safety issues along with cannabis regulations.
When he was sworn in to the city position he said, “I bring you a simple commitment; I will keep the Santa Barbara Police Department moving forward on the cutting edge of 21st Century Policing and continue to reinforce the concept of what some have called 'procedural justice.' That is, to ensure that we continue to treat everyone with dignity and respect and that our internal administrative processes reflect and reinforce those values.”
He is in the interim role while a nationwide search takes place for a new full time Chief of Police. That is expected to be announced before Fall.
Ragsdale said as these members of the police department rise through the ranks and those before them retire, there are many openings ahead in patrol, dispatch, records, parking enforcement and other areas of the department. He encouraged residents interested in law enforcement to apply.