Lt. Juan Camarena seeks top position after 23 years with the Sheriff’s Office
Lt. Juan Camarena hopes to become Santa Barbara County’s first Hispanic sheriff since the 1800s after voters step up to the polls June 7 next year.
With 23 years of service in the department, he decided this is the year he runs for the role of sheriff.
And yes, he did discuss it with Sheriff Bill Brown.
“Six or seven years ago, I told the sheriff one of my aspirations was to become sheriff one day. Now that you fast forward and we’re here. It’s not a surprise to him, and it’s not a surprise to anyone in the whole office,” he told the News-Press.
Lt. Camarena was born in Mexico and came to Santa Barbara County at the age of 4. His parents became farmworkers in North County, and they stressed the value of hard work while he tagged along in the field.
He attended Santa Maria High School, running cross country and competing in track and field as well as soccer. Four days after graduation, he left for bootcamp and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lt. Camarena served four years and later re-enlisted in the Marine Reserves for an additional three years.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Ashford University and a master’s in communication from Purdue University.
Lt. Camarena grew up learning Spanish and English and said being bilingual is an asset when serving Santa Barbara County.
“When you speak the language, it creates comfort,” he said. “The next thing you know, the community will feel more comfortable expressing themselves and will be able to provide more information to a crime that is committed.”
His goal, if elected, is to establish trust between law enforcement and community members.
“There’s this perception that there’s a lack of trust between law enforcement and the community. And I want to change that,” he said. “Here in Santa Barbara County, it may not look like it because we may not have had very many protests, but there’s still this perception.”
He would use technology to keep the public better informed about crime in the community and the sheriff’s office’s actions. He’d like to employ a data dashboard, which gives the public crime data on demand online.
He is part of the sheriff’s office technology committee and worked as the project manager for the current website.
He’d like to outline a strategic plan for the department so it can make decisions on technology going forward.
“Technology is moving pretty fast, and law enforcement needs to be able to follow the curve,” he said. “If it cannot evolve, that’s when you have problems you have to deal with.”
Lt. Camarena would also like to utilize community leaders as the department sets goals. He plans to create a team of officials and partners that can provide feedback.
He also has a team approach to law enforcement and hopes for strong partnerships.
“In the past 20 years, law enforcement has been the catchall for all the different types of service,” Lt. Camarena said. “I want to be able to partner up with the proper organizations, nonprofits or even government organizations to see how we’re going to solve some of these problems at hand so that we as law enforcement can focus on doing law enforcement work.”
Oftentimes, deputies are called to move a homeless person from a residence’s driveway, and they have to engage behavioral wellness professionals in some situations to properly address the situation.
Lt. Camarena knows a variety of situations, as he’s worked his way up through many positions.
He began in 1998 as a correctional officer at the jail. When he graduated from the law enforcement academy, he became a deputy and patrolled the county.
Lt. Camarena worked as a narcotics detective before transferring to the criminal investigations division to investigate crimes against people. Then he became a sergeant.
He was the patrol supervisor at the Carpinteria and Santa Maria patrol stations and then worked as a human resource sergeant.
Lt. Camarena served as the human resource lieutenant for two years before transferring as the station commander of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol.
Four months ago, he stepped up as lieutenant of the criminal investigations bureau, where he manages all detectives.
Lt. Camarena has served as a SWAT team member for 18 years in addition to his primary roles and now manages the team.