Ramon Batista selected as Santa Monica’s first Latino police chief
By Sam Catanzaro
Ramon Batista, Jr., the former police chief of Mesa, Arizona, has been selected to lead the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD).
On October 14, Santa Monica City Manager David White announced the selection of Ramon Batista, Jr., as chief of police for Santa Monica. Batista comes to Santa Monica from Mesa, Arizona’s third-largest city, where he served as police chief. Before that time, he spent 30 years rising through the ranks of the Tucson Police Department, including two years as assistant chief of police.
“Chief Batista is a tenured law enforcement professional who built strong community relationships in both of the communities he has served with outstanding performance,” said City Manager David White. “We are certain he will do the same here in Santa Monica where strong relationships underpin community safety, trust, and collaboration.”
Batista will be taking over for Interim Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks who lead the SMPD after former Chief Cynthia Renaud stepped down last year.
As chief of the Mesa Police Department, Batista oversaw a budget of $188 million and 760 sworn and over 450 professional staff. According to the City of Santa Monica, during his tenure, Mesa’s Part 1 Crimes were at an all-time low of 23 events per 1,000 residents.
In a press release, the City described Batista as a “proponent of 21st Century Policing initiatives and community resiliency.” During his tenure in Mesa, Batista led the implementation of a mental health crisis 911 diversion program whereby suicide calls to police were directed to crisis counselors. In addition, he launched a strategic plan for the Mesa PD, which included enhancing diversity across ranks, focusing on internal and external communication, and de-escalation techniques.
“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. “The Santa Monica Police Department has a history of honorable public service, collaboration, outreach, and community safety. I look forward to being a part of the team and serving our residents alongside them.”
Batista began his career in Tucson in 1986 and over his 31-year career there, 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. He rose to the rank of captain in 2011 before becoming assistant chief, first for the patrol bureau followed by the investigative bureau where he had oversight of all detectives and major criminal investigations, the crime lab, and the evidence section.
In 2017, Batista was appointed as Mesa’s police chief, a position he served for two years before resigning in 2019.
Batista was the chief during a high-profile murder trial of Philip “Mitch” Brailsford, a former Mesa PD officer acquitted of killing an unarmed man in 2016. A jury found the officer not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of Daniel Shaver. As reported by AZ Central, the 26-year-old was unarmed on his knees “begging for his life” when Brailsford shot him five times in a Mesa hotel hallway. In the wake of the incident, AZ Central reports that Batista promptly began making changes intended to foster a different culture in the department and restore trust with the community.
While Mesa saw its lowest violent crime rates since tracking began in the 70s during Batista’s tenure, remarks he made in June of 2019 regarding two separate police use-of-force incidents led to wavering support from the Department’s ranks. In one incident, Mesa PD officers were recorded repeatedly punching and kneeing an unarmed man. In the second incident, two officers were filmed roughing up a 15-year-old handcuffed armed robbery suspect. During a news conference, Batista called these actions unacceptable and vowed to bring on change, AZ Central reports. Weeks later, however, two police unions cast no-confidence votes against Batista, citing a toxic work environment and low morale.
In November of 2019, Batista resigned to “pursue personal interests and other professional opportunities.”
When reached for comment regarding the no-confidence votes against Batista, the City of Santa Monica issued the following statement:
“Chief Batista comes to Santa Monica with over 35 years of service in law enforcement. After a rigorous recruitment process, we are confident in his leadership skills, expertise, and values, which align with the talent and dedication of our police department. As Chief of the Mesa Police Department, he reinforced community partnerships, while keeping both the community and officers safe. Santa Monica is fortunate to welcome Chief Batista and we look forward to having him join our City team.”
Batista’s start date is Monday, October 18 with an annual salary of $298,788.