Deborah Linden, the San Luis Obispo police chief who was instrumental in cracking down out-of-control partying, will retire in December after nine years on the job.
Linden, 49, is noted for confronting neighborhood nuisances such as loud parties and underage drinking. She also built a strong relationship with the student populations at Cal Poly and Cuesta College in an effort to include them in future problem solving. “Deb has had a great influence and been a role model for collaboration within the city organization and within the community, which I think is the legacy she will leave for the future,” City Manager Katie Lichtig said.
Linden was hired in January 2003 to oversee the San Luis Obispo Police Department after 18 years with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. Linden said it was an auspicious time to ease in her successor because the department’s finances are in place for the next two years and the force has a solid leadership team.
During her tenure, Linden squashed disorderly revelry during troublesome holidays such as Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day throughout the city.
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The effort began in 2004 after a Mardi Gras celebration that year turned into a riot when a crowd of about 5,000 threw rocks and bottles at police. Nearly 200 people were arrested. The next year, arrests dropped to 91 during Mardi Gras, and by 2010 they had dropped further to 43.
Since the riot, additional laws targeting excessive noise, partying and drinking have been implemented, leading to a decline in violations such as open containers, noise and urinating in public.
“I am very proud of the job we did with Mardi Gras,” Linden said. “I’m the most proud not just of the outcome but that we were able to stop it in a completely nonviolent way.”
Linden said one of her goals was to find and implement strategies focused on reducing underage and binge drinking and to try to calm neighborhood strife.
“There was certainly a fair share of tragedies, including the death of Carson Starkey,” Linden said.
Starkey, a freshman at Cal Poly, died in December 2008 from alcohol-related hazing as he pledged a fraternity.
Linden said that by working closely with the Starkey family, the city was able to use the tragedy as a prevention message. “It’s not only about new ordinances and laws but developing relationships, prevention and outreach,” she said.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who worked for five years as Linden’s second-in-command, said that her attention to detail and dedication to her employees and the community are some of her strongest assets.
“She is very much focused on doing things right and not cutting corners,” he said. “She is a collaborative person, and she did a lot to foster positive relations with Cal Poly that we didn’t always have.”
Future challenges facing the 83-member police department, including 57 sworn officers, will involve doing more with less money.
Linden said the budget challenge facing the state and fundamental changes about how serious offenders are housed and supervised will be a difficult part of the next police chief’s job.
Lichtig said the city will begin a national recruitment to replace Linden by year’s end. Linden is the second highest-paid employee. She earns $160,394 in salary and an additional $73,821 in benefits, such as retirement and health care. The city manager is the highest-paid employee.