Bill Brown vs. Juan Camarena: The Race for Santa Barbara County’s Sheriff-Coroner Election

Photo Courtesy of Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

Kelsey Thompson

I.V. Beat Reporter

On June 7, incumbent Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown faces Santa Barbara police force veteran Juan Camarena in Brown’s fifth election race. Although Brown is approaching his 16th year holding this position, Camarena runs on the platform of raising concerns over the lack of trust between the community and the police force in recent years. 

When asked why he wanted to run for a fifth term in an interview with KEYT News, Brown explained that he foresees “major issues and challenges coming to us [both nationally and globally]” and that he hears “a call for stability and a need for somebody who has been around the block.” 

For Brown, being “around the block” references his 12 years of service as a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Los Angeles county. He was promoted to chief of police in Moscow, Idaho in 1992 and later held the same position in Lompoc, California in 1995. Now the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner, Brown’s time in office is also defined by the building of the Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail. However, some struggles included overspending on the project by millions of dollars, as well as some technical malfunctions such as when all the jail cells randomly opened at once. 

Brown aims to hold this office of Sheriff-Coroner for 20 years, significantly longer than the average sheriff stint of 11 years. 

Camarena argues that Brown’s long standing position is the reason why Brown should not be reelected, telling local newscasters that “when you’re in a position for so long, [your leadership will] become stagnant.” 

Camarena’s background includes four years as a Marine before working for the Santa Barbara police force for the past 23 years, rising through positions, overseeing outside counties. and serving as a station commander for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. In a recent interview, Camarena explains that his main goal is to lower crime, particularly violent crime which have so far increased in 2022. He wants “the community to be a part of the solution,” especially the younger generations who may not be as inclined to trust law enforcement. 

The incoming sheriff-coroner will also be in charge of handling past issues of distrust and waning relationships between police and local communities. One example of this is regarding topics of police brutality, especially since the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

During this time, Brown issued an empathetic response to the incident. However, using national statistics, he stated that an incident similar to Floyd’s is not statistically probable to happen in the future, especially within their community. 

Brown’s department has faced $9 million in legal settlements from excessive use of force lawsuits over the past 10 years. He also rejects the onboarding of a civilian review board, which he claims did no justice for George Floyd in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Camarena remarks his campaign platform as running with a commitment to enhance the relationship between the locals and the police force. Fluent in Spanish, he also encourage people from Santa Barbara’s large demographic of Hispanic and Latinx communities to report crimes. 

Those living in Santa Barbara County can register to vote and learn more about the upcoming election on the election page of the county’s website.