Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow published a letter to Nextdoor earlier this week, addressing the department’s community dialogue and de-escalation techniques while also calling for support for the members of the department.
“Communication is fundamental to how we relate to one another. People are able to convey how they see and experience the world through communication,” she wrote. “We are able to develop empathy and change our views of the world through listening to other’s perspectives. We also send strong and impactful messages by what we choose Not to say. I have recently listened to, and spoken, much about contemporary policing, police accountability, and how we as an agency respond to the changes in societal norms and expectations.
“But I would be remiss if I didn’t address a void.”
Chief Luhnow added that, “What hasn’t been said matters.
“It matters to the officers and detectives who, day in and day out, respond to our community when they call for help. It matters to the men and women who answer the thousands of calls for help from our community which have not ended up in national controversial social media posts. It matters to the families of these officers, who see all over media outlets, hateful messages about police and threats against their lives because they wear a blue (or tan) uniform. Being proud of our officers and wanting police to evolve as a profession are not contradictory concepts.”
The chief wrote that Santa Barbara Police officers have been practicing de-escalation techniques and contributing to community dialogue for years. She said the department is constantly working to improve from evidence-based practices and to expand their worldview, while also calling for recognition for the “fine service they provide, while continuing to move forward and participate in nationwide calls for systematic changes in the criminal justice system.”
She thanked those who have stopped officers to express gratitude, as well as the handwritten notes the department has received.
Chief Luhnow said she respects those who are demanding equity and peaceful protesting against systematic racism.
“I stand with you. It is not your fight. It’s our fight,” she wrote. “Everyone owns it. But I also stand with the men and women of this police department. If you think you have to choose between the two (fighting systemic racism or supporting SBPD officers), you haven’t spent much time with our officers.”
She then addressed several demands that have been made by various organizations that have already been implemented by the department.
The department’s policy manual requires de-escalation measures and the “duty to preserve life and render aid regardless of circumstance.”
“Discrimination is, of course prohibited, so are choke holds,” she wrote. “All uses of force are required to be documented.”
Officers receive implicit bias and principled policing training that exceeds state mandates, working in partnership with Santa Barbara-based organization Just Communities.
Assembly Bill 1421 allows the public to access public records for pertinent information to all violations, including dishonesty, perjury or evidence tampering, as well as sexual assault and all officer-involved shotoings or related deaths.
“SBPD reports all use of force incidents resulting in serious bodily injury and/or the discharge of a firearm to the California Department of Justice,” Chief Luhnow wrote.
Members of the community are part of the interview process for all promotional interviews for sergeant and lieutenants. The department also has “SBPD VOICES,” an evidence-based community conversation model recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
In addition, the department’s Volunteers in Policing program allows the community to engage with other civilians who are ambassadors of the department.
“Each brings outside perspective to/expertise to department culture. That fosters a relationship between officers and civilian community,” Chief Luhnow wrote.