Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman will begin her new position March 20 as the assistant executive officer to oversee Santa Barbara County’s Health and Human Services and public safety departments.
“It is very humbling, for one thing,” Chief Heitman told the News-Press. “I have received a great amount of support from staff within the county family, external stakeholders, community members and people I have worked with in the past. It has really been affirming having a network of people that are quick to offer support, and with that network of individuals, I will be able to be more successful.
“It’s really daunting to step outside of what I am familiar with into this new role,” she said. “So I am grateful for this supportive network and people who are willing to partner with me in public safety. I am eager, but I am also very thankful for the support.”
Chief Heitman holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
She has served Santa Barbara County for more than 32 years — specifically with the probation department. She has served in her current assignment as chief probation officer for just over five years.
“Over the past five years I have had the opportunity to work on collaborative initiatives with other safety departments and HHS. In this collaborative role, I chair the Community Corrections Partnership and the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council,” said Chief Heitman. “Both the CCP and the JJCC bring together department heads and stakeholders. It has been an opportunity for me to begin developing my role as a facilitator while I bring people together and look for common goals and interests.
“I have had the opportunity to work in interagency initiatives such as enrolling more people in Medi-Cal, maximizing housing resources and making county resources available to the underserved populations. So it seemed like a good fit for this assistant CEO position overseeing HHS and public safety departments.
“When you look at the major initiatives in the county, a lot of them involve the intersection of public safety and HHS,” she said. “As we solve problems and provide better services for the community, understanding both sides and the court system will allow us to better leverage and have a collective impact. I have been in public service over 32 years, and I am not personally satisfied by chipping away at larger problems from the edges.
“I would like to be more fully involved and see how our county government can be involved in these initiatives. At the state level, there are things developing that will enable more local level cooperation involving the intersection of these departments.
“CalAim has a focus on prioritizing those with mental health issues and ensuring that they get better served. We have a really great group of department heads and organizations, and I am eager to work with them in a new way.”
Her new role will be oversight of the HHS as well as public safety agencies for the county including: probation fire department, sheriff’s office, public defender, district attorney, social services, Department of Behavioral Wellness, public health, the First Five division and child support.
In her new role, Chief Heitman said she would work to ensure the community’s needs are being met by the departments. She emphasized the importance of making decisions in a collaborative way.
“My role is supporting department heads and problem solving, to help us work together and collaborate on the mission of serving the community of Santa Barbara,” she said.
“I have greatly enjoyed my time as chief probation officer, but at some point you have to pass the baton and step into a season of exploring new things,” Chief Heitman said. “Throughout public service, I have always been in the role of celebrating the people around me and the work they are doing.
“My desire is for people to understand how incredible those working are doing and how far above and beyond they go to make this a safe community to live well. I am honored to be a part of that.”