SLO’s new police chief shares goals as she begins job this week

Deanna Cantrell is the new San Luis Obispo police chief

Deanna Cantrell, 45, of Arizona takes over the San Luis Obispo Police Department on Jan. 4
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Deanna Cantrell, 45, of Arizona takes over the San Luis Obispo Police Department on Jan. 4

Incoming San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell begins her first week at work Monday and said she’s already received a warm welcome from residents and her new staff.

Cantrell, 45, said Sunday that she arrived in the city last week and has spent time meeting with members of the community and the department on an informal basis. This week will kick off a series of official meetings with department staff and community stakeholders.

“It’s been nice to get out, and people have been really welcoming,” she said. “I’m super excited to be here.”

Before she was offered the chief position in November, Cantrell had served with the Mesa Police Department in Arizona for 21 years in a variety of roles, most recently as assistant chief.

Despite the size and demographic differences between San Luis Obispo and Mesa, the two share some similarities, Cantrell said. Mesa, a city of about 464,000 people and the third-largest in the state, is also home to Mesa Community College, the largest of Maricopa County’s community colleges, as well as the polytechnic campus of Arizona State University.

Last week, Cantrell said, she dropped in and out of the department to meet with staff members and was present to watch the swearing in of a new officer as well as a DUI checkpoint carried out in downtown San Luis Obispo on Friday night.

She said she is not coming into the department with a list of predetermined initiatives or priorities, but would rather spend the first weeks listening to staff, residents and city management and getting a sense of local culture.

I’m a social butterfly. I hope people feel free to come up and strike up a conversation with me.

Deanna Cantrell, new San Luis Obispo police chief

In doing so, she will depend on input from the Chief’s Roundtable, a group of community volunteers that meets with the chief quarterly, and a group Cantrell, who previously served as chairwoman of the Mesa Police Department’s Diversity Team and as an adviser to the Arizona Women’s Initiative Network, said she would consider expanding.

“It’s a pretty good representation, I think. But a few facets may be missing,” she said.

Cantrell said the department’s Community Action Team, an officer unit that deals closely with those of the city’s homeless population who are chronic low-level offenders, and the Roundtable, a legacy of former chief Steve Gesell, is “a great idea.” A proponent of community-based policing, Cantrell said her former department had a conceptually similar unit that was successful in bridging gaps between officers and the communities they serve.

She said Mesa has a more indigenous homeless population than San Luis Obispo, where a significant percentage of homeless are transitory in nature. However, Cantrell, who said she is a scholar of the U.S. Constitution and an advocate for the protection of civil rights, said a department under her watch will treat the homeless with dignity and equality.

As a former internal affairs commander, Cantrell said she is pleased to be coming into the department as it implements its body-worn camera pilot program, which aims to equip all patrol officers with body cameras by the end of 2017. The Mesa Police Department fitted its officers with cameras in 2012, Cantrell said, and has since experienced a 40 percent drop in citizen complaints and a 75 percent drop in officer use-of-force incidents.

“I think policing is tough, and its more difficult now than ever,” she said, noting that she dealt with officer misconduct while in internal affairs. “We do get our power from the public. Our legitimacy lies in our (ability) to be transparent, to be held accountable for our actions.”

As such, she said that as chief, she will work to be as transparent as possible and keep communication flowing from the agency to the public.

“Can you always point fingers at officers? No. Should you be able to ask questions of your police? Absolutely. And you should expect answers,” she said.

On a personal note, Cantrell said she and her spouse have found a rental in the city and moved in with their three dogs on Dec. 26. A fan of outdoor activities, she said she is looking forward to enjoying the area’s hiking and golf opportunities, as well as learning to paddleboard.

Especially in these first weeks in a new community, she said she looks forward to meeting as many residents as possible.

“I’m a social butterfly. I hope people feel free to come up and strike up a conversation with me,” Cantrell said. “I truly like different perspectives — that’s what makes this all work.”

Cantrell will be officially sworn in as chief at the Jan. 19 City Council meeting.

Meet new SLOPD Chief Deanna Cantrell

  • 45 years old
  • Holds a master’s degree in administration from Northern Arizona University
  • Served the Mesa Police Department in Arizona for 21 years, most recently as assistant chief
  • Formerly served as the department’s internal affairs commander
  • Served as chairwoman of the department’s Diversity Team
  • Is a certified instructor on Fourth Amendment issues
  • Cantrell and spouse, together for 19 years, have three dogs
  • Loves the outdoors and is looking forward to dog-friendly beaches and paddleboarding