New Paso Robles police chief wants to move past Solomon era

Manuel “Manny” Guaderrama
Manuel “Manny” Guaderrama

For Manuel “Manny” Guaderrama, who was selected Friday as Paso Robles’ new police chief, restoring confidence in the police department by moving past the Lisa Solomon era is his top goal.

Guaderrama, a 29-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department known for his morale-boosting leadership, will assume the post pending a final background check in coming weeks, the city announced Friday. City leaders cited his “record of integrity and innovative, ethical leadership.”

It is hoped that he will start early next year.

“He’s very direct on what he wants to see, but polite and concerned when someone comes to him with an issue,” San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said of his current captain. “He can come to the middle and find the middle ground for them.”

Finding a balanced leader is paramount to Paso Robles’ search for a new chief, a process that’s been closely watched in wake of a scandal that stemmed from allegations of sexual misconduct against former chief Solomon. She subsequently resigned in April.

Sixty-one people applied for the job, including several candidates from San Luis Obispo County. Guaderrama applied in June.

The 53-year-old is well aware of the struggles that Paso Robles police have faced.

“I feel like those are challenges. But with a new chief and new perspective, I don’t see that as being an issue any longer,” Guaderrama said in a telephone interview with The Tribune on Friday.

“It’s about restoring confidence in the police department and the community and making it a department people are proud of,” he said.

Employment terms have not yet been released, but the position pays up to $160,020 per year, excluding benefits.

Guaderrama and his wife, Cari, were attracted to Paso Robles because of its small-town charm. They currently live in the San Diego County community of Alpine but plan to move to Paso Robles once he’s hired. Guaderrama applied for the job in June.

Known as a fixer

San Diego’s police force has about 1,850 sworn officers, and close to 550 civilian employees in a headquarters office and nine substations that serve the city’s 1.3 million people.

In Paso Robles, the new chief will oversee about 51 employees, including officers, dispatchers and other staff for a city of nearly 30,000 people.

Most recently, Guaderrama led 75 sworn officers and one clerical person in San Diego’s Northwestern Division before transferring to the Traffic Division in July, he said.

His entire law enforcement career has been in San Diego, working through the ranks and tackling problems such as drugs, murder and gangs.

Lansdowne said Guaderrama’s strengths are his ability to improve tough situations.

“We’ve always called him the fixer,” Lansdowne said.

“I think you’re going to see a police chief who is very committed to the community, who will go out to the neighborhoods. I think you’ll see that he’s very transparent and good at explaining what he’s done and why,” he added.

Understanding gang issues

Recruitment for the new Paso Robles chief has been extensive.

In addition to a research and community interview approach from the city’s hired search firm, two public forums were held last summer to get feedback on what qualities residents want in a new chief.

One focus those forums took was the desire for a leader who understands Hispanic communities and knows how to deal with gangs – a growing problem in Paso Robles.

Guaderrama isn’t fluent in Spanish, but comes from a Hispanic family and understands the culture, he said.

“I’m going to be everybody’s police chief regardless of where you are in the community or your race,” he said.

Guaderrama’s promotion to captain in 2008 placed him as the commanding officer for the Southern Division – a neighborhood that was 90 percent Latino and located at one of the Mexico border crossings.

His gang strategy is to first assess the situation and then see what outreach and local community partnerships can be made. Suppression and prevention would follow.

“A lot depends on how entrenched the gang members are,” he said.

Working closely with the schools and local community organizations to try to identify the issues is a vital step in that process, he added.

“Having a strong diversion program works a great deal,” he said.

Guaderrama will also be tasked with bringing stability to the force.

Lansdowne said that’s what Guaderrama does best. He’s purposely placed the captain in leadership roles to improve morale.

“People want the opportunity to make decisions and be given challenges,” Guaderrama said. “I’m committed and extremely loyal to my organization and encourage them. I recognize people who do good work.”

The San Diego State graduate and his wife, an esthetician who owns her own skincare business, have three sons.

In August, his middle son, an adult who resides and works in San Diego, was accused of misdemeanor sexual battery and vandalism charges after an altercation at a taco shop in Pacific Beach in which three women were allegedly attacked, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Some San Diego police employees who didn’t give their name accused the son of receiving special treatment in the case, but the department denied that, the newspaper reported.

The son has been charged and is being prosecuted, Lansdowne told The Tribune.

The alleged crime was not in Guaderrama’s division, he added.

“This matter has been explored with the San Diego police chief who reports Manny had no involvement, and this will be confirmed through the standard peace officer pre-hire background inquiry,” according to Paso Robles press release.

Guaderrama’s oldest son is a West Point graduate currently serving as a captain in the Army, and his youngest is a sophomore at UC Berkeley.