Monday, July 4, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 18

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 13th, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 7

Opioid crisis prioritized in sheriff's 2022 budget proposal

By Taylor O'Connor

Drug overdoses caused 133 deaths in Santa Barbara County during 2021, the highest in county history. To combat this, the Sheriff’s Office wants a little more than $1 million in general fund dollars to fund an additional narcotics team, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Kala Hubbell said during an April 12 Board of Supervisors budget workshop

“This expansion would add a second narcotics team that was lost to previous budget cuts. The request is for one sergeant and four narcotics detectives. Based on the size and scope of the growing narcotics problem within our county, the addition of a second narcotics team will help combat the growth of the illicit drug industry that’s made an impact on local communities and law enforcement agencies,” Hubbell said. 

This bar graph shows the five-year operating revenues for each of the Santa Barbara County public safety departments with the Sheriff’s Office on the far right.

Opioid response is a new priority for the department’s $181 million budget, and the Sheriff’s Office hopes to expand its services while police departments also rebuild their own opioid responses. Countywide, Hubbell said, several city police departments also reduced or eliminated narcotics enforcement teams, leaving more illicit drug cases without investigation. The regional narcotics team was eliminated years ago because of funding and staffing losses, expanding that gap in services, he said. 

The new team would allow one team to focus on North County and another to focus on South County, providing greater coverage and enabling the Sheriff’s Office to conduct and complete more investigations, Hubbell explained. 

“With this expansion, the county’s ability to address the illegal industry will be doubled, meeting the community’s needs as well as the wishes of the community members,” Hubbell concluded.

Sheriff Bill Brown told supervisors that investing in a narcotics team would help the county face “the single most dangerous and difficult challenge in our community.” 

“We are presented in this community with a proliferation of illicit drugs, which are the primary factor in the opioid crisis. It’s not unique to our community, but it is causing an unprecedented amount of overdose-related deaths,” Brown continued.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked whether the re-creation of a regional approach to narcotics would be possible, and if it could help alleviate the workload. Brown said that city police departments were interested but they don’t have staffing to do it immediately. 

“Once staffing issues are addressed, then it’s a different ball game. The suggestion was made to convene our narcotics teams together to leverage existing resources while we are waiting for staffing levels to increase,” he said. 

Brown added that Sheriff’s Office partners at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are also interested in collaborating on a regional approach by leveraging a few employees to this area. 

Along with the new narcotics team, Brown also wants to introduce Project Opioid, a collaboration between community entities and the Sheriff’s Office to develop a multi-pronged approach that addresses the supply and demand of opiates, he said. 

“Seminal County in Florida has been engaged and involved in doing this community effort for four-and-a-half years, and they’ve been able to reduce [their] fatal overdose rate by 75 percent,” Brown said. “If we could achieve this result, we could have saved 100 lives, and prospectively, we could save hundreds of lives.”

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