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Santa Barbara asking for community input in search for new police chief

Santa Barbara seeks community input during search for next police chief

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.-The City of Santa Barbara is looking for community input before hiring its 29th Chief of Police.

Former chief Lori Luhnow announced her retirement at the end of last year and officially left her position in February 2021.

Since then, Bernard Melekian was selected to serve as Interim Police Chief for the city. He was sworn in Monday, March 1, but said he isn't interested in the permanent position.

As part of the process of selecting a new permanent chief, the city developed a community survey to collect the public's expectations and priorities as they relate to the next chief.

The Police Chief Recruitment survey is open from now until midnight on Friday, April 19. All responses will be consolidated and referenced throughout the recruitment process. To take the survey, click here.

City Administrator Paul Casey said Santa Barbara is following the lead of San Luis Obispo. SLO launched a similar survey late last year to fill the vacancy left by Deanna Cantrell.

"This is to to help us with recruiting the next police chief, we are going to have another police chief, " said Casey.

Casey described the confidential survey as open-ended rather than a survey of only "yes" or "no" questions.

"We are asking what qualities we should be looking for what are the challenges facing the city and the department, what are the opportunities facing the city and the department when it comes to policing, so it is very open ended, just trying to get as much good input as we can from everyone. We have it in English and Spanish so we are looking for feedback from everyone in the community," said Casey.

The survey offers a safe way to gather community input during the pandemic. Residents, workers, and businesses owners are encouraged to participate.

Healing Justice Co-founder Krystle Farmer Sieghart said, "Healing Justice Santa Barbara has been meeting with city leaders to discuss transparency and accountability throughout the process of hiring a new Police Chief here in Santa Barbara. We have urged and suggested that interviews through some part of the process be done publicly, similar to what we saw at the city council meeting for the formation commission to discuss police oversight. We have also urged city leaders to continue meeting with community members."

She said organizations such as Healing Justice Santa Barbara should be involved on hiring committees.

"Right now we are seeing what is going around in the nation with police violence and now it is more important than ever to have community involvement in decisions like this," said Farmer Sieghart.

The city said the selection of a new police chief could take six months to complete due to a community input period, opening recruitment and applications, panel interviews that include both professional experts and community stakeholders and then the final selection.

To take the survey in English, click here. To take it in Spanish, click here.

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here

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