Mayor recommends facility of collaboration for new police HQ
Whenever the Santa Barbara Police Department gets a new police station constructed in the Cota Street parking lot, Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo recommends calling it the “Community Safety Center,” a facility where police officers collaborate with social workers and behavioral health specialists to serve the community. However, that facility will not be built during the 2021 fiscal year.
Economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in revisions to the city’s proposed budget for FY 2021, with cutbacks including $2 million in Measure C funds intended to build the new station. This was further clarified during a special meeting on Monday, during which Santa Barbara Public Works Director Rebecca Bjork told the council that the police station was not among recommended capital projects for the new fiscal year.
In an interview with the News-Press, Ms. Murillo said removing funding for the new station and thereby delaying its construction is the result of both economics and the current societal climate. The new police station is to be paid for with funds from Measure C, the one-cent sales tax that became effective in April 2018 as a means of generating funds for infrastructure improvements, deferred maintenance to city facilities, and a new station to replace the “outdated and unsafe” police station. Because of businesses shutting down due to COVID-19, Measure C revenues have been severely impacted, according to the mayor.
Ms. Murillo added that she and the city council are “sensitive to people’s concerns for how our police department will function with sensitivity to the community.”
Since George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, police departments across the country have been subject to enormous scrutiny and there have been nationwide public demands for police reform. Ms. Murillo remarked that the construction of a new police station is currently a “real sensitive subject.” During the public comment section of Monday’s special meeting, many members of the public objected to the construction of a new station.
Though the new station is unlikely to materialize any time in the next fiscal year, Ms. Murillo said it is “well documented” that the current police station is not seismically safe, too small, has plumbing issues, and is not suitable for preserving evidence the way police need to. Also, she said that a replacement police station is one of the stated aims of Measure C and that it has to happen at some point because it was voted on by residents.
As for what goes on in the new police station, Ms. Murillo said the council wants to have a community discussion on what the public wants from its local law enforcement and is committed to having that conversation in a summit, which has yet to be scheduled.
In an effort to enact police reform, the mayor revealed that the city is looking at “ways that some police functions can be moved to other departments.” These include police working hand in hand with behavioral health specialists from County Behavioral Health and social workers. Under this new model, a police officer would be accompanied by one or the other when called to interact with someone who is having a mental episode or any other mental health problem.
Ms. Murillo said a new, larger police station will have room for both the policing and mental health personnel needed for reformed law enforcement. With these divisions, she suggested calling the new station the “Community Safety Center” and that it function in a manner that “reflects that safety.”
The Santa Barbara Police Department did not respond to the News-Press’ request for comments regarding the proposed budget’s elimination of funds for a new station in time for publishing.