New Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow learned the importance of working collaboratively with others at a young age
“It started in the womb for me,” Luhnow said during an interview with Noozhawk at her office inside SBPD headquarters downtown. “I have a twin sister. You have to share and work things out for a win-win situation.”
“My twin sister was going through her police academy training,” she said. “I was an athlete, and hearing about the challenges and diversity in the academy struck a chord. I decided to try, and never looked back.”
The constant challenge and a desire to help people captured her attention and she later graduated from the FBI National Academy.
Luhnow was sworn in as Santa Barbara’s top cop Monday, after 27 years with the San Diego Police Department. She says the first order of business is to strengthen communication engagement, work collaboratively with social agencies and build trust with locals and her employees.
“I wanted the rest of my career to give back to the profession and lead this organization,” she said. “The relationships build trust, which builds a legitimacy in what we do. We are not viewed as the power and control, but as trust and respect.”
During her time in San Diego, Luhnow oversaw the department’s investigations, special operations, patrol and traffic divisions, as well as recruitment and training.
Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger, who previously served 25 years with SDPD, said Luhnow is a problem solver. He chose her to serve on the Domestic Violence Response team, where she managed hundreds of investigations and domestic violence calls.
“She’s worked extremely tough assignments and her strengths are with people,” Swanger said. “She’s got a talent for understanding people and how to get them involved.”
In 1993, he said, Luhnow was the first female motor officer in San Diego.
“She didn’t do it to prove anything,” Swanger said. “She was confident she could do the job.”
Luhnow, Santa Barbara’s first woman police chief, said it’s important to build relationships with officers and residents. With the challenges police are facing at a national level, the 50-year-old said the time to build community trust has never been more important than it is now.
“The successes I’ve had in my career have been because of the contributions in the community,” she said.
Luhnow said working in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter brought a range of challenges that should help her here.
“I have experience working with the hospitality industry, the concerns associated with alcohol industries and homelessness,” she said. “All of it ties together and creates quality of life issues for the community.”
Luhnow said she wants to work promptly, and provide client-specific services for the homeless.
“With homelessness I would like to see a collaborative approach from the beginning before we meet people in crisis,” she said. “I’d like a relationship with psychological assessors and mental health professionals who work with our officers.”
She says her strategy is to build connections with social service agencies and community partners that can bring resources to individual situations.
“I will try to mirror for youth issues, homelessness, gang violence and family violence,” she said. “The police department is the front line and typically the first to deal with problems, and we are capable of the criminal elements associated, but situations are deeper that include social agencies.”
Luhnow wants the department to be seen as determined to make a positive influence on youth.
“The key to gang issues is a prevention and intervention program,” she explained. “This relies on a strong commitment to work with the youth. It’s essential our officers connect with them and build an opportunity to be part of the community — their community.”
In addition, Luhnow says she would like to bring back beat coordinators, strengthen the department’s social media presence and establish partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
Luhnow is meeting with community leaders and making local connections.
“I have the desire to do what it takes to strengthen relationships and ties,” she said.
After a lengthy national search for a candidate to succeed Police Chief Cam Sanchez, who retired in February after 15 years in the position, Luhnow was selected from among 91 qualified applicants. City Administrator Paul Casey made the final choice.
“She possesses the broad mix of experience and personal qualities that I was looking for in a police chief,” he said. “But she also has personal qualities that will serve her well in Santa Barbara — enthusiasm, professionalism and commitment to community.
“It’s the totality of her strengths that convinced me she is the right person for the job.”
Luhnow plans to lead and keep her staff of 212 sworn and civilian employees safe. She said the department has welcomed her with open arms.
“I want to take care of our officers so they can take care of the community,” she said. “I’m focused on providing the services to continue to keep our officers healthy and happy in servicing the community.”
The San Juan Capistrano native said Santa Barbara feels similar to her hometown. The beach, arts, lively culture and landscape caught her attention.
“Santa Barbara is a beautiful community that has the diversity of San Diego, but the smaller town appeal is truly me,” she said.
After a weekend visit to Santa Barbara, Luhnow said she knew the city was a good fit.
“It struck an emotional connection that I felt after doing more research and understanding the needs of the department,” Luhnow said. “Every day I’m here it’s more clear this was a right decision for me.”