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  • Public Safety Topic Day Informs and Inspires Leadership Class

    For its monthly topic day in November, the 2019 Leadership Santa Maria Valley class was treated to an in-depth look at public safety in our community. 

    The class gained valuable insight into the startling issue of human trafficking, received an education on the leadership philosophy that’s helped transform local law enforcement and got a first-hand look at how local public servants protect people and property. 

    The class was graced with visits from Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen, Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley and a pair of staff members. It was also treated to facility tours of the Santa Maria Police Headquarters and Fire Station 1. 

    Breakfast was hosted by Santa Maria Chamber Ambassador Diane Alleman-Stevens. Lunch was sponsored and catered by Moxie Cafe, and snacks were provided by CoastHills Credit Union. 

    Dudley and her staff, which included Victim-Witness Assistance Program Director Megan Rheinschild and Chief Criminal Investigator Patrick Clouse, opened the day with a presentation and in-depth question-and-answer session on human trafficking. Dudley opened up about how she has seen prostitution evolve over the decades into a system that holds victims hostage with extreme intimidation tactics and threats of violence, resulting in many victims’ unwillingness to cooperate with authorities when it comes to cracking down. 

    One victim, Dudley said, smashed her face into a pole, rather breaking bones and spewing blood than to give any impression to her captors that she had shared information with investigators. 

    The best way average citizens can help, the trio said, was to stay aware, learn how to spot signs of human trafficking and be ready to report potential cases. 

    Hansen came to Santa Maria after 36 years with the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department. He was brought onto the staff to overhaul departmental policy and rebuild the swat team. After four years of serving as a commander, Hansen was appointed chief in 2017. 

    As part of his address to the Leadership Class, Hansen shared the strategy and tactics behind his leadership style. Among the dozens of highlights, he stressed professionalism, dedication, and trust in and respect for subordinates. He also preached accountability. 

    One specific change Hansen has made to the squad is requiring detectives to wear suits at all times. It’s given an upgrade in trust and professionalism to detectives in the field and has become a point of pride in the department. 

    The first two presentations were hosted at Police Headquarters at 1111 W. Betteravia Road, a relatively new 72,000 square-foot facility that opened in 2015 and houses department records, meeting rooms, briefing rooms, offices, the 911 emergency dispatch center, a modern crime lab, and a holding facility to process arrestees.

    After a tour of the headquarters, it was off to Fire Station 1 at 300 W. Cook Street, where Champion briefed the class on the duties, challenges and daily life of local fire personnel. 

    Champion rose the ranks to become chief in 2016 after starting as a reserve firefighter with the department in 1990. A lifelong Santa Maria resident, he actually attended kindergarten at the former elementary school where the fire station now stands.

    The class learned all about the rigors of 24-hour shifts by the three-person teams at each of five fire stations that must be ready at all hours to answer each and every call for fire and medical emergencies in town. A sixth station serves the Santa Maria Airport District. 

    Lastly, the Leadership class got a guided tour of the firehouse by Champion himself, including a look at the station’s state-of-the-art ladder truck. The most expensive truck in the fleet, it has the ability to place personnel at the tallest of any buildings in the city, allowing firefighters to make rescues and aid in the protection of property.

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