The Argonaut Interview: Jacqueline Seabrooks
By Vince Echavaria
Jacqueline Seabrooks is back in familiar territory at the Santa Monica Police Department, only this time she’s at the helm.
Five years after stepping away from the department to lead another city’s police force, Seabrooks has returned to Santa Monica to become the first woman to serve as the coastal city’s chief of police.
She attained that same distinction while serving the city of Inglewood, where under her leadership, the city’s crime rates dropped to its lowest levels since the mid 1970s, the department’s risk management profile improved and the department enhanced its relationship with the community, police officials said.
As Santa Monica police chief, Seabrooks has returned to a city where she previously spent 25 years and has completed her progression to the top of the ranks. Seabrooks was the first woman in the department to be promoted to each of the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain. She served as an interim chief during a prior search for the top cop.
In total, Seabrooks, who first joined the Santa Monica force in 1982, has over 31 years of law enforcement experience.
While she acknowledges that the police chief position is still predominantly held by men, Seabrooks instead chooses to emphasize that cities primarily desire strong leadership and someone who will carry out the mission of fighting crime and the fear of crime.
Seabrooks has additionally provided recruit training at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy addressed police executives on topics including crisis communication and risk management, and served as an adjunct faculty member at area colleges in the field of criminal justice.
She recently met with The Argonaut to discuss her thoughts on returning to Santa Monica, her first months on the job and her near term goals as chief.
How does it feel to be back in Santa Monica and to serve the department as chief?
It feels pretty wonderful. It’s not often that one goes through a career, leaves an agency to take the helm somewhere else and you get to come back home. So it feels very good and the welcome has been very warm both from internal staff in the police department and the city.
During your first months back what has been your focus and how has it been returning to work with your colleagues?
It’s been very busy. I make no assumptions about the police department; I’m treating it as though I’ve not been here previously because I think that’s fair to the internal staff and I think making assumptions that might be five years out of date advance anyone. In some ways it’s been about beginning to position the organization for what goals I have over the longer term. Right now we’re talking about getting back to the basics, making sure everyone is clear that our primary mission is maintaining public safety by fighting crime and the fear of crime.
You have the distinction of being the first female police chief in the history of both the Inglewood and Santa Monica police departments – what does that mean to you?
I don’t really put a value on that. I think what’s more important is that I want to lead this organization with distinction, push us to the next level of professional policing and make sure the level of leadership is reflective of the best that this organization has. I want to focus less on the fact that I’m a woman and more on the fact that I think I’m a proven executive who has a lot to offer and who wanted to bring a different leadership approach to the police department.
With your experience as the first female chief in Inglewood do you feel that there are different expectations because of that?
This is a profession that is still, even in the 21st century, predominantly male. But I think there will be a time when the conversation about the executive leadership being female will go by the wayside. Police departments’ municipal management and municipalities in terms of the people in them want good leadership. While the novelty is always a part of the conversation, at the end of the road what people are wanting is good leadership, they want equity, fairness. They want to know their police department is one upon which they can rely, and that from a municipal standpoint it’s being done in a way that advances the professionalism of the city and it does so with minimal risk exposure, and I think I bring all of that.
Having previously spent the bulk of your career here and then leading the department in Inglewood, what do you think will be the main differences in serving both cities?
I think we have more in common than we really believe because at the end of the day what the police department exists to do is fight crime and the fear of crime. We exist to do that here in Santa Monica and the city of Inglewood’s police department exists to do the same thing. You might want talk about the differences in crime types. We have every type of crime that they have and vice versa, the only difference being perhaps frequency. We are a destination city with a beach, we have a different economic base, different geography, different demographic. At the end of the day I think it’s more constructive to talk about the positivity that the police department contributes to the environment here that allows this city to stand on the cusp of excellence.
What are some changes that you might like to implement within the department?
I think any conversation about what I might do or what I might want to change is a little preliminary. It’s too premature to talk about too many things in terms of change, because I’m still assessing the people and still getting a lay of the land. At this stage I’d like to say that I’m taking everything under advisement, I’m evaluating all of our systems and all of our processes. What I am excited about is the quality of work that I see, the caliber of the men and women here and their dedication to the organization and to this community.
What are some of your near term goals that you’d like to achieve?
I think what we’ve done is really take a lot of data and it’s important to have that data. In the near term I want to make sure that all of that data is made meaningful to all of the employees irrespective of their station in the organization because I think everyone has an obligation to contribute to the crime fighting in their way.
In the longer run I want to make sure that we’re able to be elastic enough to respond to the changes in our community, the changes that are brought about by continued development and by the presence of light rail because that’s going to bring even more visitors to the city and I want to make sure that our approach is welcoming but at the same time keeping us on top of crime.
How is the department preparing for some of the changes coming in the future of Santa Monica, including light rail and new development?
While the city develops we just have to adjust our strategy so that philosophy of fighting crime and the fear of crime is communicated clearly. We have to make sure our internal operations, structure and systems support that endeavor and that everything we do whether it’s a reorganization… whether it’s a redeployment of people, it’s done with an eye toward fighting crime, because that’s the one thing that we’re here to do.
Do you feel that gang crime remains one of the primary issues the department faces and how are you planning to work toward reducing gang violence?
I think gang crime is always a challenge particularly when you’re a destination city and people come from at least a tri county area on beautiful, warm sunny days which we have plenty of. It’s absolutely an obligation of this department to respond to that and to make sure we have an adequacy of resources deployed supported by appropriate levels of intelligence and clear data information so we can sculpt our enforcement responses accordingly.
I don’t legitimize gang activity, it’s a scourge, it’s a crime and it runs the antithesis of what we exist to do. We don’t give them too much verbal play other than to say, come to Santa Monica and if you commit whatever you do, you will be arrested, you will go to jail and you will be convicted.
Has the reinitiation of cold cases been a focus of the department?
The department has been focusing on that since around 2007. I think it’s important that we not lose sight that there are unsolved heinous crimes that we have in our files and any contemporary sophisticated police department would be remise if it did not go back and look at those files, especially in lieu of the leaps and bounds in technology to see what can be done. But it’s not just about technology, it’s also about boots on the ground policing.
At the end of the day, why are victims of 20 years ago less entitled to justice than victims of today?
How has policing evolved since you began your career?
We’ve gotten smarter. We’re able to respond differently to the challenges, and technology is certainly a driving force behind that. It’s changed because the world in 30 years has changed and the police department has to change with that. By the same token we do get better at it. As a profession, I think we understand the importance of our goal vis-a-vis the community perhaps better than we did in the 1980s when we were all about telling the community what kind of policing they were going to get and they had no input. I think the demands of the communities have certainly been heard and responded to. I think we are much more open and receptive to hearing from our communities and including them as part of the processes.