Santa Barbara Police Chief’s daughter gets special treatment. Ex-KEYT anchor picked up by on-duty officer at LAX after crash

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POLICE CHIEF LUCKY TO BE ALIVE. But response after Cam Sanchez’s car was smashed raises questions. By Scott Steepleton, News-Press City Editor. October 7th, 2015 10:50 am Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez is recovering at home after suffering injuries Friday when a tire from another vehicle smashed into his city-owned Ford Explorer on Highway 101, as he drove his wife and son-in-law to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up his daughter, Victoria.

After suffering cuts and abrasions during the 6:15 a.m. incident near Bates Road, the trio were treated at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and released later that day.

However, the response by the Santa Barbara Police Department, including Deputy Chief Frank Mannix, raises questions about special treatment – at taxpayer expense – afforded the chief and his family that unfortunate day.

The News-Press has learned that three Santa Barbara police officers responded to the scene, and one, on order from the on-duty watch commander, continued on to LAX to pick up the chief’s adult daughter and bring her to Santa Barbara.

City Administrator Paul Casey, Mayor Helene Schneider and the rest of the City Council were briefed on the matter, but as of Tuesday, there had been no public announcement about the incident, the chief’s absence, or that day-to-day operations of the department were handed over to others.

The chief was driving south when the Explorer, provided for his personal use, was struck by a tire that had come off a vehicle on the northbound side of Highway 101.

“The whole front end of the car was smashed in,” Mr. Casey told the News-Press.

A photo provided to the paper shows the extent of the damage, and drives home how lucky everyone inside was to escape with only minor injuries. 

Chief Sanchez was able to pull over and stop on the side of the road. Emergency personnel responded and the chief, his wife, Olivia, and son-in-law, Sgt. Martin Rose of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, were taken by ambulance to the hospital. (Sgt. Rose was already on medical leave at the time, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.)

Chief Sanchez “is being briefed daily,” Sgt. Riley Harwood, department spokesman, told the News-Press. “But the day-to-day operations at SBPD are being managed by the on-duty personnel.”

According to Sgt. Harwood, the watch commander received a phone call from a Ventura County Sheriff’s Department deputy stating the chief’s daughter, who recently moved to Denver to work at a TV station after having been a reporter and anchor at KEYT Channel 3 in Santa Barbara, “would be stranded at LAX.” Details about how the deputy in the adjoining county had such knowledge were not provided.

“Due to the extraordinary circumstances, the watch commander exercised his discretion and sent an on-duty police officer, who was not assigned to enforcement activities, to pick up the chief’s daughter at LAX,” said Sgt. Harwood.

“Chief Sanchez did not request nor direct any personnel from the SBPD to assist in this transportation response. Chief Sanchez was not involved in this decision, and he was not in a position to make other arrangements himself.”

The assignment took about five hours, or about $300, said the sergeant.

Deputy Chief Mannix told the News-Press he was OK with the response.

“I learned about it several hours after the fact, but I supported the decision. Sometimes our watch commanders make decisions, using their best judgment, under difficult conditions, at a time when a decision has to be made. I believe this was one of those decisions,” he said.

Many private sector employers, he added, would do the same thing when an employee was involved in a crash and suffering a medical emergency.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Casey explained that public safety staff operate in a way unlike other city employees.

“Public safety portions of the city organization have a code of honor that they work under that is probably different from the rest of the organization. You see that during deaths in the organization when they rally around and have a very tight bond that comes together in a time of need.”

But is taking a sworn officer away from the city to essentially serve as a taxi a sound use of public resources when there are plenty of cabs, Uber drivers and rental cars out there?

“When I asked about it and the answer was, you know, this woman’s mother, father and husband were in a serious car accident and transferred to Cottage Hospital and the watch commander made the decision to have someone go down and pick her up, I can understand that from a compassion standpoint,” Mr. Casey said.

What about the taxpayer’s standpoint?

“I think that’s fair for the taxpayers to evaluate that and determine whether that was a compassionate act or an inappropriate act,” he said. “I can understand in the heat of the moment the compassion side of it.”

Safety in the city, said Mr. Casey, was not affected.

The chief, like others in executive management positions, opted for a city-owned car for personal use in lieu of a personal car allowance, said Mr. Casey, noting that Santa Barbara’s top law enforcement officer is on call around-the-clock.

Having family members in such a car or using it for anything other than official business, Mr. Casey added, is not a violation of city policy.

The city administrator would not answer on the record whether employees from other departments should now expect such overtures afforded the chief and his family.

Instead, Mr. Casey referred back to the code of honor.

“I think that was the instinct that the staff reacted to at that time when you had the police chief, his wife and his son-in-law in a very scary accident.”

email: ssteepleton@newspress.com

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