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Job as police chief meets goal of 8 years

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Preserving San Luis Obispo’s quality of life, curbing alcohol and noise issues downtown and getting to know the community are the priorities Steve Gesell will focus on in his first days as police chief in San Luis Obispo.

Gesell, 46, will officially begin the job Jan. 17 but was introduced to a small crowd of employees Tuesday by City Manager Katie Lichtig.

He replaces nine-year chief Deborah Linden, who retired in December.

Gesell said he would first get to know the police department’s staff and the community before assessing the department and formulating ways it may be improved.

Gesell, who was raised in San Luis Obispo, said the new job met a personal goal he had for more than eight years to return to the city.

“If there is one word to describe this moment in time it is surreal,” said Gesell. “I knew that if I could finish my career in San Luis Obispo it would be the answer to all my dreams.”

A 22-year police veteran, Gesell recently was acting chief in Atascadero for most of 2011, and he worked for 20 years at the Scottsdale Police Department, where he achieved the post of division commander.

The two decades he spent in Arizona included working his way through the ranks from a patrol officer to a division commander. In that time, as a lieutenant, he supervised all undercover investigative teams and the SWAT team — partnering at times with the DEA FBI, Secret Service and IRS.

Lichtig said Gesell distinguished himself from other candidates seeking the post by his past experience and his leadership skills.

For overseeing a staff of more than 80 and a budget of $15.3 million, his starting salary will be $157,508. Linden retired at a salary of $160,394.

Additional compensation will cost the city more $66,000 — that figure does not yet include health care contributions. The city also agreed to pay up to $10,000 in relocation costs should Gesell move from Atascadero to San Luis Obispo by December 2013.

Gesell will start at nearly the peak salary for his position to keep his pay on par with some of his subordinates.

Lichtig said Gesell’s salary was decided by a number of factors including what he would be making in comparison to the two police captains immediately subordinate to him.

The salary range for police captains exceeds that of police chief by $2,072 because of past negotiations. Because of that, Gesell’s total compensation will actually be less than one of the police captains until an agreement is reached with the police management group to reduce their compensation by 6.8 percent.

Police Capt. Chris Staley will fill the role as acting police chief until Gesell is sworn in.

“The cultural differences between where I spent the last 23 years are many, but the commonality is the recognition of sustaining positive relationships, which has been at the foundation of every decision I’ve made in my career,” said Gesell. “In policing, we can not do this alone, we need the community’s assistance.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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