News that Santa Paula has just put its police chief on paid leave comes as the top cops in cities across our region are finding themselves in hot water.
In Santa Maria, the chief faces questions over an officer-on-officer killing and problems with a high school program.
In Paso Robles, the chief resigned after a sex harassment investigation that proved nothing and resulted in $200,000 in damages paid to the chief.
In Santa Barbara, chief Cam Sanchez faces questions after word leaked that he’s applied for the chief’s job in San Bernardino amid questions about the beating of a suspect and a parking embezzler. The Santa Barbara Police Department and entrepreneur Ira Distenfield are tangled in a legal mess over a reality TV show depicting officers in action.
All of this comes against a background of scrutiny over public pay and public pensions. Salary spiking so that pensions are paid based on a very high final year of work, pay for vacations and sick time, double-dipping by returning to work as a consultant or at a desk job — all are driving up the cost of taxpayer-funded retirement plans.
And there is the perennial problem of salary inflation that seems to infect municipal pay scales as chiefs, city managers and other senior officials skip from city to city.
The bottom line is that police chiefs are important players in any community. They are community leaders who represent the front line in enforcing the rule of law and thereby protecting property rights.
For rights to be effective, the laws have to be enforced, and for the law to be enforced effectively, the public has to trust those who enforce it.
It may be too early to take a few data points and call them a trend. But it seems our police chiefs should be held to a higher standard of accountability and that city governing bodies also may need to find fairer and more prudent ways of holding them accountable.
Businesses, homeowners and tourists all have a stake in the success of public safety efforts.
Let’s put this series of ugly episodes involving top cops behind us before four or five data points become a disturbing trend.