A day before he’s to be sworn in as Morro Bay’s new police chief, Gregory Allen said he’s struck by the city’s unique, small-town atmosphere and engaged residents, a contrast to the city he served for 34 years.
“It’s a big difference from L.A. — in so many ways,” Allen said on Thursday at a table outside Top Dog Coffee Bar. “I love this city. I’ve met some wonderful people so far, and I’m looking forward to my time here.”
Allen, who was a 34-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, most recently served as the acting chief for eight months in Greenfield, a community of 16,000 in the Salinas Valley.
In terms of reported property and violent crimes, Morro Bay has historically been one of the safest cities in San Luis Obispo County. But Allen said those statistics should not be taken for granted.
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“A lot of hard work by the Police Department and the community working together go into those statistics,” he said. “The challenge of course is keeping it that way, and that doesn’t happen by itself.”
After rising through the ranks of the LAPD from patrol to administration, Allen worked heavily in that department’s efforts at improving “community policing,” served with the department’s community relations unit and was a coordinator in its Citizen Community-Police Advisory Board.
There are some social issues — homelessness and others — that are very difficult to tackle. But I think that law enforcement can be done thoughtfully and compassionately.
Morro Bay Police Chief Gregory Allen
Allen describes community policing as weaving the Police Department into the fabric of the community it serves.
“I like to simplify things: It’s really about having the police be in contact and working with the community, being accessible, understanding the importance of the long-range goals like youth programs, mentoring, those things,” he said. “More than a category of law enforcement, I like to consider community policing more of a human thing.”
In his short time in town, Allen said he is cognizant of issues affecting the community such as crimes victimizing the elderly, as well as the “terrible epidemic” of opiate addiction and substance abuse. With the combined effects of a voter-passed state law that downgraded certain drug and low-level offenses, as well as another that limited incarceration time for some offenders, Allen said it’s more important than ever for law enforcement to work with other agencies to connect people with social services.
“As a Police Department, we obviously can’t arrest our way out of what has become a social issue,” Allen said. “We understand the issues, the hopelessness, and the survival mechanisms that kick in when someone is addicted, but we cannot and will not allow that to roll over into the lives of other people who are trying to live their lives decently.”
Allen takes over for former Chief Amy Christie, who served the department for four years before taking a job as chief at the Pacific Grove Police Department in July.
Allen will officially be sworn in Friday at 10 a.m. in a public ceremony in front of the Morro Bay Community Center at 1001 Kennedy Way.
He says that he’s looking forward to learning more about the flavor of the community. On Tuesday, he’ll do just that at a “Coffee with a Cop” meet-and-greet event from 7 to 9 a.m. at Top Dog Coffee Bar, at 875 Main St. in Morro Bay.
“The thoughtful thing for a new police chief to do, coming into a new city, is to listen, learn and observe,” Allen said. “There are some social issues — homelessness and others — that are very difficult to tackle. But I think that law enforcement can be done thoughtfully and compassionately.”