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Santa Monica Hires Former Mesa Police Chief Who Championed Reform

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By Jorge Casuso

October 14, 2021 -- Ramon Batista, Jr. -- who as Mesa, Arizona's Police Chief battled the union over police reforms -- has been hired as Santa Monica's first Latino police chief.

A 35-year law enforcement veteran, Batista will take the reins from Jacqueline Seabrooks, who assumed the post on an interim basis after Police Chief Cynthia Renaud retired in the wake of the May 31, 2020 riots.
Police Chief Ramon Batista
Police Chief Ramon Batista (Courtesy SMPD)

Batista, who rose through the ranks in Tucson, will assume the post on Monday with an annual salary of $298,788, City officials said.

“Chief Batista is a tenured law enforcement professional who built strong community relationships in both of the communities he has served with outstanding performance,” City Manager David White said in a statement Thursday.

“We are certain he will do the same here in Santa Monica where strong relationships underpin community safety, trust, and collaboration.”

Batista has not held a law enforcement position in nearly two years after resigning from Mesa's top post in November 2019.

His efforts to change the department's culture and rebuild community trust earned him a vote of no confidence from the two unions representing Mesa police officers, according to a report in Mesa News.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) strongly supported Batista's hiring, which it said ushers in a new chapter "alongside our fellow community members."

"We enthusiastically support the decision of City Manager David White and the Santa Monica City Council in this choice of new leadership for the Santa Monica Police Department," the statement read.

"The SMPOA is committed to strong relationships with the community we serve, and we’re excited to welcome the stewardship of a Chief who shares our values."

The police union pointed to Batista's recent book "Do No Harm," which lays out five steps "to align police actions with community values."

"Chief Batista has literally written a blueprint to create a culture of accountability and transparency between law enforcement and the communities they so heroically serve," the POA wrote.

As chief of the Mesa Police Department, Batista came under fire from Mesa's police unions for implementing changes to training and use-of-force polices after a high profile excessive force complaint in 2018, according to press reports.

Batista said he was "deeply disappointed” by his officers’ actions and hired a former prosecutor to review the beating of a 33-year-old man and the "rough treatment of a teenager," according to AP.

After the no-confidence vote, Batista issued a statement saying the department had "experienced tremendous growth and faced challenges that will make us better.

"We will continue to build stronger relationships within the department and throughout the community," he said, according to a Mesa News report.

During his two-year tenure in Mesa, where he led a force of 760 sworn officers (more than three times Santa Monica's force), serious crimes dropped to an all-time low, according to Santa Monica City officials.

Batista launched a strategic plan that included "enhancing diversity across ranks, focusing on internal and external communication, and de-escalation techniques that led to safer engagement between the community and the officers."

He also implemented a program that directed suicide calls to police to crisis counselors in the 911 call center, "a milestone that police departments across the country are seeking to emulate," officials said.

Batista began his law enforcement career as in Tucson in 1986 and worked his way up the ranks over the next three decades.

"He served in diverse roles from patrol supervisor, traffic division/solo motors, training academy commander, public information office director, patrol division commander, SWAT division commander, and chief of staff," City officials said.

Batista rose to the rank of captain in 2011 and in 2014 became assistant chief, first with the patrol bureau then the investigative bureau, where he oversaw all detectives and major criminal investigations, the crime lab and the evidence section.

"Key accomplishments included identifying smart enforcement strategies and a multi-disciplinary approach focused on alternatives to imprisonment for lower-level violations to reduce recidivism and the high cost of incarceration," City officials said.

According to tthe Santa Monica Police union, Batista holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Safety and Homeland Security and a Master of Science degree in Leadership.

He is a Fellow at the National Police Foundation, a current member of the Police Executive Research Forum, a graduate of the Senior Management Institute for Police, and the FBI National Academy, the union said.

Batista and his wife have two children and one grandchild. They enjoy running, hiking and all activities related to their family, City officials said.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected as the next chief of police for the City of Santa Monica and to lead the Santa Monica Police Department into the next era of public safety,” Batista said in a statement.

“The Santa Monica Police Department has a history of honorable public service, collaboration, outreach, and community safety," he said. "I look forward to being a part of the team and serving our residents alongside them.”

Batista will be sworn into service on Monday at 10 a.m. The public can view live on Santa Monica CityTV Channel 16 or the City’s YouTube channel: Police Chief Swearing in Ceremony

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