Isla Vista residents and UC Santa Barbara students welcomed the three Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner candidates with a packed room as the three made their last push to win over third district voters before the June 5 statewide primary elections.

Incumbent Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown, who is running for a fourth term with nearly 12 years of experience at the helm of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office (SBSO), visited I.V. alongside opponent SBSO lieutenants Eddie Hsueh and Brian Olmstead.

The Isla Vista Foot Patrol (IVFP), a division of SBSO, and the UC Police Department (UCPD) are the chief law enforcement agencies overseeing UCSB and Isla Vista.

Once elected to the position, the new sheriff-coroner would be responsible for overseeing SBSO and IVFP in the college town of approximately 23,000 as well as the whole of Santa Barbara County and its approximately 424,000 residents.

Brown was met with a small crowd of six protesters shouting “Fuck Bill Brown” through a megaphone from outside of the building at the start of the forum. The group was critical of his stance on a bill which would make California a sanctuary state and his willingness to comply with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (I.C.E) requests for information.

sheriff, Bill Brown, sheriff's race

Protesters silently held signs criticizing Sheriff Bill Brown for his compliance with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s orders for information among other things. Jose Ochoa / Daily Nexus

Under Brown’s leadership in 2016, I.C.E. deported 200 undocumented inmates in Santa Barbara County after SBSO turned over their information, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

During the forum, the protesters silently held signs at the back of the room objecting to the number of deportations under Brown’s leadership.

The forum was hosted by the I.V. Community Services District and moderated by Allison Adam and Adam Chohan, two staff members in the Associated Students executive vice-president for local affairs’ office. Audience members also had the opportunity to submit questions to the candidates prior to the forum.

Here are the main points discussed during the forum:

Candidate Backgrounds

  • Brown was first elected as sheriff-coroner in 2006 and subsequently re-elected in 2010 and 2014. He began his career in law enforcement in the Bay Area, later transferring to Inglewood and becoming a police chief for Moscow, Idaho, where he oversaw the city and the University of Idaho. He was also the chief of police for the City of Lompoc in 1995.
  • Lt. Hsueh has worked in SBSO for 31 years. He’s led initiatives to provide officers trainings on responding to people with mental illness and trained over 700 officers in two years. Hsueh said he wants to improve training to teach officers to use less force and implement more crisis de-escalation training.
  • Lt. Olmstead has worked in SBSO for 28 years and has worked in every division in the department, including the narcotics and human trafficking units. He is running on a platform of repairing relationships with the county board of supervisors.

From left to right, sheriff-coroner candidates incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown, Lt. Eddie Hsueh and Lt. Brian Olmstead discuss police-resident relations and sexual assault policies in Isla Vista. Jose Ochoa / Daily Nexus

Responding to Cases of Sexual Assault in I.V.

  • Brown said officers should treat survivors with dignity and compassion, as if they were members of their own family. The department does not have a single rape kit that has not been processed, Brown said.
  • Hsueh said SBSO could benefit from referring victims to both Standing Together to End Sexual Assault, formerly the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, and UCSB’s Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education, as well as implementing green dot and implicit bias training. Green dot training teaches people to be an active bystander in preventing sexual assault.
  • Olmstead said he believes law enforcement could provide more education to the public about where victims can report sexual assault cases, as jurisdictional issues can be confusing.

Police-Resident Relations During Large Events in I.V. 

  • Brown said future large events in I.V. such as Deltopia should only be for local community members because the majority of crime and citations during these events are linked to people from out of town.
  • Hsueh suggested SBSO work with the CSD to create sanctioned events that minimize crime through crisis stabilization units and through triaging those suffering from alcohol and drug abuse. Hsueh has been on the “front lines” of riots and said police often did not act in accordance with their training because they did not give ample notice before using their weapons.
  • Olmstead said more alcohol-free daytime events could decrease the rates of crime and medical transports because alcohol is a main source of problems during I.V. events.

All three candidates unanimously expressed support for medical amnesty for overdose victims and those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse.

Hsueh, in particular, expressed support for written policies that would show the public that the department’s emphasis is to protect their lives. Under these new policies, those seeking medical attention for illegal activities like drug use or underage drinking would not be arrested.

Candidates’ Perspective on I.C.E. Requests

  • Brown, who has previously complied with I.C.E.’s requests, said he would continue to comply with requests to give the agency the release dates of violent criminals.
  • Hsueh was the only of three candidates to state that he would stop complying with I.C.E.’s orders, which he said was necessary to improve “public trust.”
  • Olmstead said the immigration system currently needs “comprehensive reform” but said the department needs to follow the law and focus on removing violent people.

Concerns Over SBSO Lack of Personnel

The three candidates said one of the department’s pressing needs is its lack of personnel.

  • Brown said the department has lost approximately 90 positions funded through the county’s general fund since 2008. He said the department has cut programs in non-emergency areas and lost several specialized units and crime prevention programs, but he hopes to bring back those programs incrementally.
  • Hsueh agreed with Brown’s position.
  • Olmstead said the county has paid $4.5 million in overtime as a result of vacancies. He said SBSO currently needs to fill 50 funded positions, including approximately 30 sworn officers. He said the department currently lacks a recruitment plan for completing the new hirings.