Santa Barbara County Sheriff candidates Bill Brown and Juan Camarena participated in a “Discussion with the Candidates” virtual forum on Tuesday evening sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Santa Barbara Independent.
News reporter Ryan Cruz moderated the forum, held via Zoom, leading the discussion with questions regarding homelessness and drug-related issues, creating a civilian oversight board, and more.
Brown, who has been the county’s sheriff for 15 years, discussed a program called Operation Opioid as one of his main goals.
“We have more illicit drugs on our streets now than we have had in the modern era,” Brown said. “I have started Operation Opioid, a program in Santa Barbara County that mirrors a successful program that’s been followed in several different Florida counties, and I’ve invited leaders from local government, law enforcement, from the faith-based community, from the health community, from the education community, from the business and corporate community to come together, to put a plan together that addresses both the supply and demand side of the opioid crisis.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Camarena said he has plans to create a homeless outreach program and a community engagement board.
“Being homeless is not against the law. One of the things that we would do is create a homeless outreach program that is comprised of a deputy or law enforcement officer, a fire personnel, other departments like social services and behavioral wellness, nonprofit organizations, and that group will work together,” Camarena said. “This group together could work together and try to make sure that the homeless community is safe and is getting the services it needs and to make sure that they are on the right path to getting out of homelessness.”
Camarena also said that a community engagement board would be created — consisting of community leaders, business owners and residents from across the county — to meet with the sheriff monthly to discuss challenges the county is facing, as well as to talk about solutions.
During the forum, it became apparent that the two candidates have differing opinions about a potential civilian oversight board.
“I think that the calls that have been orchestrated nationwide for civilian oversight of law enforcement, in many ways, have been misguided,” Brown said. “The reality is the number of complaints, the number of problems and issues that the Santa Barbara Police Department has in any given year that would rise to the level of having to justify a civilian oversight commission — they are so few, you could probably count them on one hand.
“So, to develop a commission or an oversight board that, at least in the beginning, would be estimated to cost anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000 annually, in my estimation, would not be a prudent use of taxpayer money.”
“The people of Santa Barbara County are the ones that are going to elect the sheriff. However, if, during my four-year term, the community feels that I’m not doing my job, I would welcome them to do an oversight board, and I would welcome them to do an oversight board of any elected official,” Camarena said. “However, the disadvantage of creating an oversight board is if the board is comprised of individuals who have no expertise as it relates to law enforcement, or as it relates to any type of criminology or any type of expertise that will give them a better prospective of the jobs, duties and responsibilities of the sheriff or law enforcement in itself.”
Overall, Camarena said he is running on three pillars — community, vision and accountability.
“I can bridge the gap and reach out to those who historically do not trust the Sheriff’s Department,” Camarena said.
Brown emphasized his experience and said that his main goals, in addition to Operation Opioid, include ensuring that proper mental health treatment is provided and preserving public safety.
“My highest goals for my next term in office are to, No. 1, preserve public safety and quality of life in Santa Barbara by pursuing the proper balance of law enforcement, crime prevention, and recidivism reduction and rehabilitative efforts,” Brown said. “No. 2, to expand our efforts to keep mentally ill people out of the criminal justice system or provide them with proper mental health treatment if they must be in jail.”
The next sheriff will be elected by voters in the June 7 election.
A recording of the full sheriff election forum can be viewed online on TV Santa Barbara’s Facebook page.