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Santa Paula Appoints New Chief of Police

Stephen MacKinnon, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, is hired to shore up the department. He replaces Bob Gonzales, who retired in May.

November 02, 2005|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Santa Paula officials have appointed 27-year law enforcement veteran Stephen MacKinnon to take over the reins of the city's Police Department, tapping his vast leadership experience to strengthen the department and shore up police services.

MacKinnon, 50, has served as chief of police for three other agencies and for the last 18 months has been a member of the United Nation's International Policing Task Force, helping establish modern police agencies in Haiti and Kosovo.

MacKinnon, who was born in Michigan and raised in Connecticut, begins his new job Nov. 16. He will succeed longtime Police Chief Bob Gonzales, who retired in May after nearly 33 years on the Santa Paula force.

"I'm really looking forward to coming to Santa Paula," said MacKinnon, who will earn $100,112 annually. "I feel the community is a good fit for me."

The appointment comes at a critical time for the city of 30,000, which has scrambled in recent years to reduce crime while wrestling with questions about how best to provide police services.

Even as the blue-collar community touted its lowest crime rate in decades, a 2004 law enforcement audit commissioned by city leaders found the Police Department to be inefficient, outdated and underfunded -- though well-regarded by residents.

Officials considered contracting for police services with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, but the idea was abandoned last year following angry protests. A proposed utility tax placed on last November's ballot to bolster funding for police and fire services failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, dealing a blow to efforts to update equipment and offer more competitive salaries to officers, who are among the lowest paid in the region.

Against that backdrop, city leaders conducted a nationwide search for the new chief, agreeing last month that MacKinnon was the best of four finalists to lead the department's 33 sworn officers.

"Steve is an innovator who has a track record of searching for new and creative ways to deliver the best police services possible," City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. "He is one of those people who search out the best way to address issues, not just the easiest way."

The father of three grown sons, MacKinnon began his career as a patrol officer in Connecticut before moving to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where he became deputy police chief. He served as chief of police in Exeter and Salem, N.H., and in Avondale, Ariz.

He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University in Boston and a master's degree in public administration from City University in Washington state. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

MacKinnon said he plans to settle in Santa Paula with his fiancee and five dogs, and he looks forward to exploring the community, getting to know residents and his officers, and perhaps even trying his hand in Santa Paula's community theater program.

He said he wants to create a five-year master plan outlining the department's needs and goals and to reinvigorate efforts to involve the community in crime-fighting efforts.

"We want members of the community to understand we expect them to get involved," MacKinnon said. "The Police Department does have to take the lead, but it has to be a group effort."

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