Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 22
Under new leadershipMeet Lompoc's new police chief
BY AMY ASMAN
In less than a week, police Capt. Larry Ralston will move across the hall at the station in Lompoc to the chief of police’s office. Ralston will take with him photos of his wife, Ellen, a longtime teacher for the Lompoc Unified School District; his son, Adam, swinging a golf club; and his daughter, Melissa, sporting a letterman’s jacket. He’ll also take with him almost a quarter century’s worth of experience in law enforcement.
Five years ago, Ralston transferred from the Santa Maria Police Department, where he served for 18 years, to accept a promotion to captain in Lompoc. Now he’s set to fill the shoes of Lompoc Police Chief Tim Dabney, who retires on Aug. 14.
Ralston recently sat down for an interview with the Sun to discuss his career thus far and his goals as chief.
From a law enforcement perspective, how are Lompoc and Santa Maria different?
They’re really similar, other than their sizes being different. The structure of the police department is similar to Santa Maria. We have our operations division, which is our patrol, our swat, and our community services officers. And then we have our support side, which includes our detective bureau, our gang and narcotics unit, dispatch, and our records section. They’re all kind of the other side of the house.
How do they compare in terms of crime and gang activity?
We deal with the same issues. I think we deal with them a little differently. We have issues with gangs just like Santa Maria does. Our gang issues haven’t been typically as violent in the past, but that ebbs and flows too, depending on who’s in and out of custody.
What kind of community outreach does your department have?
Our community services unit has been affected by staffing [cuts], but not to the point where we’re reducing our community services efforts.
We do something called GRET—Gang Resistant Education and Training—and it’s to the fifth grade level at all the elementary schools. ... The emphasis of the program is toward gang reduction, and it also has an element of anti-alcohol and narcotics training.
We have a PAL program, a Police Activities League. We have a PAL climbing wall that’s kind of trademark for the program. Every opportunity that we can, we take out this climbing wall to different parts of the city, at different functions, and let the kids climb for free under the supervision of a volunteer or an off-duty officer.
This year we started something called Junior Giants through the San Francisco Giants. It attracted 220 kids for a summer baseball program. ... These are kids that don’t necessarily play baseball but would like to try. We have a T-ball program, an age group for 8- to 10-year-olds and 11- to 13-year-olds. They play games on Saturdays through the summer, with team practices during the week ... at no cost to the players. The Giants paid for the whole program; they provided the bats, the balls, the uniforms, and the coaches’ training.
What are some of your goals as police chief?
There are a couple of things that I want to do as time allows, but what we’re going to try to do is reach a little deeper into the Hispanic and African American communities in Lompoc, and work with some of the leaders of those groups to improve the confidence that they have in the police department. ... We already have a pretty good relationship with them, but I think it can be better.
How do you think you can make the relationship better?
What we’ve done in the past are things like forums, and we seem to reach out to the same people at those forums. We’re not reaching the people who need to hear the message. We’re going to try to find an avenue to reach the population a little bit better. I have some contacts in the Hispanic community that are going to be helping me do that ... for translation and to understand the culture a bit better.
[In the Hispanic community] we want to improve trust. They don’t trust the police. Whether they’re legal or illegal, they can still be victims of crimes, and we still need to take our reports and not focus on their immigrant status. But it’s still hard for them to understand that—that their immigrant status is secondary to what we do. We want to help them become more comfortable with reporting crimes.
Officer-involved shootings have been a major concern in Northern Santa Barbara County right now. Why do you think there have been so many in the last few months?
I’m not sure if it seems that there are more guns out there, or maybe the guns have always been out there and we’re just doing a better job of shaking the tree to get them to fall out.
Gang members and drug dealers and others are carrying guns that we don’t want them to. All of a sudden, people have been pretty brash about brandishing those guns in front of our officers, and they get shot as a result. We’re talking about it here in our department, and we already do a lot of weapons training, but we’re going to continue to stress officer safety.
Ultimately, I want my guys to go home just like every other department. We don’t want our officers to be hurt. We want to make sure that our guys are the best trained that they can be and that they have all the tools that we can afford to give them to make sure that they go home at night and that the people in our city are safe.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at email@example.com.