The Santa Barbara Police Department is experiencing staffing shortages that officials say will lead to a reprioritization of calls for service.
The shortages stem from the department’s functional strength, which is ultimately determined by how many officers are available to be immediately deployed to calls for service. While officer availability ebbs and flows, SBPD officials estimate that the department is currently experiencing functional shortages of about 25-30%.
According to Commander Marylinda Arroyo, who oversees field operations at SBPD, there are a number of reasons for these shortages. For one, multiple officers are currently on medical or military leave, which shifts the department’s functional strength because the officers are not available to be immediately deployed. Once they return, the functional strength will shift, Ms. Arroyo explained.
But there are also unfilled vacancies in the SBPD that are contributing to the current staffing shortage. Ms. Arroyo said some officers have chosen to leave the SBPD to join other police departments closer to family, a few have retired, and others have resigned to take jobs in other industries.
Until these vacancies can be filled, Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian has implemented a reprioritization of calls, which will alter the way officers have traditionally responded to calls for service.
According to Ms. Arroyo, this method will focus on “priority 1” and “priority 2” level calls, which either involve life-or-death situations or serious incidents that require police response. Other calls, such as “priority 3” or reporting calls, will take a lower priority.
When possible, Ms. Arroyo said the department hopes to deploy co-response partners from the city to address calls and reports that are non-life-threatening.
One example of this, she said, is that if there is a tree in someone’s yard that is causing a problem.
Perhaps the best person to respond to this complaint is not a peace officer, but a city official with a background in code enforcement or zoning. She explained that in some cases, this could help to resolve problems quicker than going through the police department.
“(This method) is about finding alternatives to sending peace officers when we have other issues that are being addressed,” Ms. Arroyo told the News-Press. “If someone is calling to make a complaint that is not a crime, and there is nobody in distress and there is not a threat of any kind, how might that be resolved as opposed to just sending a peace officer? That’s what we want to provide — the highest level of service possible within the city and utilize our partner departments.”
Ms. Arroyo said this new method could impact response times for calls that are labeled low priority, though she expects the department to maintain its track record of responding to the most urgent of calls in a matter of minutes.
According to the department’s CompStat summary from August, officers responded to the highest priority calls in an average of 5.5 minutes and responded to “priority 2” calls in an average of 20.3 minutes.
By deploying officers to the most urgent calls and utilizing the city’s network for co-response with lower priority calls, Ms. Arroyo said she believes the department will still be able to provide the highest quality of service to the city.
“We have some of the finest peace officers in the state of California. We have really good people and they care deeply, but it was a rough year,” Ms. Arroyo said. “There were a lot of things that have occurred, and with that being said, we know that we’re down numbers. We still want to and will continue to provide the best law enforcement service to the city.”
To fill vacancies, Ms. Arroyo said the SBPD is continuously taking applications to fill positions.
She said the department has upped opportunities to take the written test that is required to apply from two times per year to five times per year.
Ms. Arroyo noted, however, that the hiring process for a single officer can take anywhere from two months to six months because of background checks.