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Santa Maria cop pegged as new Atascadero chief 

The Atascadero Police Department will have a new chief after nearly a year without a permanent leader.

Jerel Haley, a long-serving officer for the Santa Maria Police Department, was selected following a national recruitment effort where city staff interviewed a pool of dozens of candidates,including several current police chiefs.

City Manager Wade McKinney announced the selection on Oct. 18. The interview process included a panel of local police chiefs and the sheriff, plus a community panel of local citizens and business people.

Acting Chief Steve Gesell has been in charge of the 28 sworn officers within the department since the abrupt departure of former chief Jim Mulhall in January. Gesell did not apply for the permanent position.“Jerel is the perfect fit for the City,” Gesell said. “He brings a wealth of policing experience to APD. Equally as important, he possesses an approachable demeanor coupled with phenomenal communication skills—key ingredients for an effective leader.”

Haley told New Times “Chief Gesell has done an excellent job of running the department and I hope to kind of come in and ride his coat tails while I settle in.”

Haley said there are many goals he plans to focus on as chief, but first and foremost, he would like to improve communication between the department and the community.

“When you talk to the people and business owners, some of the things I’ve heard [demand for] is just a little increased communication with the police department,” Haley said. “An increased interaction—positive interaction—I would certainly like to focus on that.”

The Atascadero city administration could use some improved communication after it came under heavy scrutiny in recent months, namely for a murky settlement agreement with Mulhall that prompted a grand jury investigation. Though the jury concluded that the city did not break any laws with Mulhall’s agreement, it did scold them for not being forthcoming with information and criticized the city’s disclosure policy.

Under state law, cities cannot disclose actions taken due to personnel issues, but Haley said he thought the report and its subsequent response was something the city was going to have to work on in the future.

Haley has been in law enforcement since 1991, when he started with the Santa Cruz Police Department, working as a field training officer, and later assigned as an investigator with the department’s Narcotics Enforcement Team, an undercover narcotics investigation unit targeting narcotics “middle men” in the Santa Cruz area.Haley moved to the Santa Maria Police Department in 2000. As lieutenant, he is currently responsible for supervision of the Detective Bureau, the Gang Suppression Team, the Narcotics Suppression Team, and the Crime Laboratory. Haley and his wife of 24 years will begin making the move in the coming month, he said. His two grown children live in the San Diego area.

Gesell will remain in his position as acting chief until Haley officially takes the spurs in mid-November. Details regarding Haley’s swearing-in will be forthcoming, city officials said.

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