Editor’s note: This is No. 4 in The Tribune’s Top Five stories of 2012 as selected by the newsroom staff. Each day through New Year's Day we will count down to the top story of the year.
It’s been more than nine months since former Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct with one of her officers, leaving a lasting scar on the community.
The police force — stuck in transition until January, when a new chief takes the helm pending a background check — simply wants to move past the controversy.
“We’re tired of our names being dragged through the mud and having our department being ripped down,” said Detective Michael Rickerd, vice president of the Paso Robles Police Officers Association.
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The association backs the new chief and members say they’re looking forward to fresh leadership and a new era, one that allows the union’s voice to have weight in department decisions, like it did in choosing Solomon’s successor.
Meanwhile, the Solomon scandal is still in public eye. Lack of details regarding her $250,000 settlement and two lawsuits against the department alleging illegal ticket quotas and sexual harassment continue to take center stage in the public dialogue.
It’s likely that some of that will not die down until the lawsuits go to trial, dates for which have not been set, city officials said.
When she resigned, Solomon said she didn’t plan to seek a new job immediately, but instead would focus on her family. She didn’t respond to requests for comment on this story.
The interim chief, Capt. Robert Burton, who has led the department since the spring, will soon pass the responsibility to Manuel “Manny” Guaderrama, a 29-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department.
Guaderrama wants to give Paso Robles police a new direction through open communication and an exchange of ideas. He plans to take a personal approach in the community.
The association — representing officers, sergeants and dispatchers — supports Guaderrama, union President Tony Ruiz said.
“We want to start fresh. He’ll have his view on how to move forward because everything is in pause mode now,” said Ruiz, an officer in the department. “It’s not that (Capt. Burton) doesn’t want to implement programs, it’s that if the new chief doesn’t want those programs we have to start at square one.”
Officers were part of the community panels that interviewed the chief candidates.
“(Guaderrama) definitely rose to the top. He has the experience this department needs and I think the association wants,” Rickerd said.
This year’s focus on Solomon bubbled over into other Police Department difficulties associated with years of budget cuts and too few patrol officers.
The department has made some improvements on staffing numbers. Since the spring, the city has hired six full-time officers and two part-time dispatchers, Burton said.
Police were authorized to hire more officers late last year to bring the department up to 32 sworn positions. Today the force has 30 officers, with the most recent hired earlier this month.
“We’re feeling less of a pinch because the bodies are coming back,” Rickerd said. But the association hopes Guaderrama’s experience brings new ideas for maneuvering through budget cuts and trying to get some extra community resources, like a traffic and school resource officer, back on the books. The association also hopes to find a new approach in fighting a growing gang and drug problem.
“That’s the exciting part — we’ll have fresh eyes but also a whole world of experience,” Rickerd said. “He may have stuff that we’ve never even thought of. And if it works, great.”
Burton, not part of the union because he’s in management, is also looking forward to change.
“We all realize it is unhealthy to live in the past and keep rehashing the challenges that we have faced over the past year,” he said.
The Tribune's top stories of 2012
1. PG&E's plans to conduct seismic surveys offshore of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant | 2. The ban on disposable plastic bags at SLO County retailers | 3. Accreditation and budget challenges at Cuesta College | 4. The Lisa Solomon controversy in the Paso Robles Police Department | 5. Violence by patients on staff at Atascadero State Hospital