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  • Leadership Class Examines Law Enforcement and Fire in Santa Maria during Public Safety Topic Day

    Leadership Santa Maria Valley got an inside look at local law enforcement, fire and safety departments during their November Topic Day centered around public safety.

    Lt. Russ Mengel, with 20+ years of police service, led off our day in the briefing room, with an overview of the department and its services.  Vitally important is the technology used in the day to day operations of the department.  He detailed the current upgrade of computers used in the patrol vehicles that will provide quicker access to the information an officer needs to efficiently and effectively perform their duties.  He ended his overview with a tour of the facility.

    Yleana Anda, from the District Attorney’s Victim Witness Assistance program, and Biannet Garcia, one of two advocates assigned to Human Trafficking & Commercially Sexually Exploited Children through the District Attorney’s Office, discussed the trafficking problem in our community.  The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office (SBSO) is the primary agency for the investigation of Human Trafficking cases.  They, with the assistance from other Law Enforcement agencies, managed 119 human trafficking investigations between Jan 2017 - Jun 2019.  These investigations were a success, but they also brought to light the magnitude of the problem in our community.  

    Biannet Garcia discussed her role as the victim’s advocate.  She helps them through the legal and transition process and placement into safe houses secretly located throughout the county.  Garcia also detailed that the DA’s office and Police Department have a partnership with many of the hotels in the area to perform periodic sting operations in cooperation with hotel management who have been trained to contact them should they notice any suspicious activity.

    Detective Felix Diaz has served the Santa Maria Police Department in the capacities of a patrol officer, gang officer, and major crimes.  His current role in the Major Crimes Unit involves homicides, attempted murders, burglaries, and gang suppression.  Det. Diaz detailed the gang activity in Santa Maria including their methods of organizing, operating and generating revenue.  He stated gangs are very active in our community.  He noted that gang recruitment is now starting at the junior high level of school.

    Chief of Police Phil Hansen had a very impressive career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department prior to joining the Santa Maria Police Department in 2013.  He became Chief of Police for Santa Maria in July of 2017.  Chief Hansen’s key message to our group was that of Leadership.  He recognized that it takes strong leadership to implement change.  As the leader, he had changes crucial to the department that he wanted to implement, but knew he had to prioritize them and implement them a few at a time in order to be successful.  

    As with any great leader, Chief Hansen has also focused on succession planning.  He has mentored his three commanders to be able to take over his role when he leaves the department.  Wisely, Chief Hansen proclaims that “Leaders are made”, not necessarily born as many would think.  According to Chief Hansen, there are two essential qualities of a good leader which are 1) Passion for your mission in life, and 2) Passion for your people.  The fact that most of the officers live in the city they serve provides Santa Maria with a police force that is just as invested in the community’s well-being as we are.

    Fire Chief Leonard Champion began his career in March 1990 and has been Fire Chief since November 2016.  He explained that there are 5 fire stations supporting the Santa Maria area, and staff at the airport.  The staff consists of 3 people; 1) Captain, 2) Engineer, and 3) Fire Fighter.  Anytime there is an emergency, this is the team that goes out on a call.  The services they provide the community are inspections, calls, and community service.  Of all calls they receive, 60-70% of them are medical in nature.  Other types of calls they go on are fire and vehicle accidents.  Fire Chief Champion explained that currently, there is no Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) system.  This means that when a medical call is received, the dispatcher cannot provide medical instructions to the caller.  However, EMD is recognized as important and is part of the long-term plan to implement.  Lastly, the fire department is very active in community outreach projects.  For instance, one program they have targets 3rd grade students to educate them on fire safety.  

    According to Fire Chief Champion, they are adequately staffed to handle the current coverage area, however, any future annexations may elicit a new Fire Station be built and staffed.