Pismo Beach's police chief looks back on 30-year career

Jeff Norton says he is most proud of national accreditation and community policing program

mfountain@thetribunenews.comFebruary 22, 2014 

Pismo Beach police Chief Jeff Norton is retiring in July.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Pismo Beach Chief of Police Jeff Norton has a lot to be proud of.

After a 30-year career in law enforcement, Norton announced Tuesday that he will retire as head of the department effective July 29.

He said Thursday that, after a long career, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“You know, the kind of stuff you never seem to have time for when you’re busy with work.”

As chief, Norton has directed a staff of 34, including 23 sworn officers, and managed a budget of more than $5 million.

Though he’s been the department’s chief for five years, he’s had a distinguished local law enforcement career that spans more than 30 years.

He was hired with the Grover Beach Police Department in 1983, and he transferred as a sergeant to Pismo Beach in 1992. In 2002, he was promoted to commander, the highest rank second only to the chief of police.

During his lengthy career, he has served in multiple functions: as a field training officer, detective, administrative sergeant, as well as a SWAT team commander. He’s been an instructor of criminal justice at Allan Hancock College Police Academy for more than 20 years and has trained more than 1,000 officers in arrest and control tactics, according to the city.

During his tenure, he said he’s most proud of continuing the department’s accreditation from the national Commission for Law Enforcement Agencies, only the fifth department in the state — and the only department in San Luis Obispo County — to earn the honor. Though pursuing the accreditation was the brainchild of his predecessor, former Chief Joe Cortez, Norton managed the effort to apply and eventually earn the best practices ranking.

“This is important because it shows that we’re in compliance with national standards,” Norton said. “It’s a way to demonstrate to the community that their police department has been audited and found to be in compliance with those standards.”

Every year, the department — at its own expense of approximately $7,000 — hosts auditors from the California Police Accreditation Coalition, who review the department’s records, evidence locker and facilities.

In addition, Norton said he’s proud of initiating the community policing, or My Cop, program, where officers are assigned to specific neighborhoods, or districts, and residents can contact their respective officers directly for nonemergency issues. The San Luis Obispo Police Department recently adopted a similar program.

Under his tenure, the department also was successful in raising funds to reinstate the department’s K-9 program, which had previously been abandoned due to budgetary constraints.

Moving forward, the department will have to deal with ongoing issues involved with the city’s nonresident population, which is drawn to Pismo Beach’s many events and hotels.

“Often times we’re dealing with extreme crowds, and we’re trying to do this in a relatively small town with only 23 officers,” Norton said. “That’s challenging.”

Norton said he and his family are planning on staying in San Luis Obispo County, and he looks forward to helping the department deal with the leadership transition.

City Manager Jim Lewis said Thursday that the city is soliciting input from members of the community before determining the selection process for hiring a new chief.

In the meantime, Norton said he is pleased with the direction of the department he’s dedicated decades to, and feels comfortable handing it off to another, whether that person is from Pismo Beach or another department.

“At the end of the day, it’s been a great run. In fact, it’s been a blessed run,” Norton said. “There’s certainly a lot worse places to be a chief of police.”

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