By Perry Smith
Signal Managing Editor
The city of Santa Clarita is expected to meet with candidates for a new Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station captain toward the end of February, according to city officials.
With Commander Robert Lewis’ recent promotion to lead the Sheriff’s Department’s Special Operations Division, an opening has been created for the SCV’s “chief of police.”
The process for picking the person is a collaborative one between the city and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to city officials.
“City and county officials will be in the room for the interview and the city manager will make a recommendation to the Sheriff (Alex Villanueva),” according to an email from Carrie Lujan, city of Santa Clarita communications manager. Santa Clarita contracts with Los Angeles County for law enforcement and is expected to spend approximately $27.7 million in its 2019-20 budget for police services with the Sheriff’s Department.
Michelle Vega, spokeswoman for county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said a representative from Barger’s office will also be involved in the meetings.
“The city and county have equal investment in this process,” Vega said, “and we will participate in partnership.”
When reached for comment about the process, Sheriff’s Department officials referred back to a February news conference, in which Villanueva announced there would be “a whole new process now for selection of station commanders, which are the de facto chiefs of police for our (24) patrol stations (including the Parks Bureau).”
“In the past, we basically dictated to the community who their chief of police was going to be,” he said. “Typically, the city council or the city managers were faced with one to three choices from which to pick.”
The new plan aims to allow more lieutenants (the rank directly below captain for the Sheriff’s Department) to apply for these jobs as they open up, he said, “and actually put the onus on the communities to then be able to pick who was going to be their unit commander or chief of police for their station.”
Villanueva said the change has already resulted in a large increase in the number of applicants for the positions, and a marked departure from the previous “cronyism” that took place.
“We’re going to narrow it down to narrow down the overall candidate pool to five to 10 (candidates). We want to make it manageable, and then we’re going to have these individuals be interviewed by a panel of stakeholders from each one of the station’s commands.”
Villanueva said he would make the final appointment based on the panel’s selection, which he called “a very, very positive step forward for the organization.”
City Manager Ken Striplin issued the following statement when reached for comment about the selection process:
“The city of Santa Clarita values our continued partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Striplin wrote in an email. “We look forward to welcoming a new sheriff’s captain to the city, who will continue to focus on driving crime down, keeping our roads safe and protecting life and property. Our community has long been known as a safe place to live and raise a family. We will continue to build upon that reputation.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth congratulated Lewis, adding that “no one wanted to see (Capt. Robert Lewis) go.”
“Capt. Lewis really set the bar high, and there is an expectation by, not only the (City) Council, but the community,” Smyth said, “that whoever steps into that role maintains that high level of service.”
Lewis was praised during his time at the station for overseeing the lowest crime numbers on record for the SCV, and his handling of the Nov. 14 fatal Saugus High shooting.
With his new charge, Lewis oversees operations for five bureaus: Emergency Operations; the Special Enforcement Bureau; the Aero Bureau; the Metrolink Bureau; and the Transit Services Bureau, according to Deputy James Nagao of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau.