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SLO announces its new top cop 

San Luis Obispo city officials formally introduced Steve Gesell as the man who will replace former police chief Deborah Linden.

Gesell, 46, is set to take up the mantle following a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 17. The 23-year veteran of law enforcement has spent most of the last year as acting chief of the Atascadero Police Department.

- MEET THE NEW BOSS:  The City of San Luis Obispo held a Jan. 3 press conference to welcome Steve Gesell as the new police chief. He’ll officially take over Jan. 17. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • MEET THE NEW BOSS: The City of San Luis Obispo held a Jan. 3 press conference to welcome Steve Gesell as the new police chief. He’ll officially take over Jan. 17.

Linden retired on Dec. 21 after nine years as chief.

On Jan. 3, a gathering of roughly 30 city employees, local law enforcement officials, and media filled the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s conference room for the official announcement.

Following an introduction by City Manager Katie Lichtig, Gesell, a San Luis Obispo native, said his return to the city was a goal he set for himself and his family eight years ago, an aim he said at times seemed “would never come.”

“Sometimes it takes the planets aligning to make these things come to fruition,” Gesell said.

A graduate of San Luis Obispo High School, Gesell moved to the Phoenix area to attend Arizona State University in 1986 and earned his bachelor’s degree in justice studies. He also holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

He spent 20 years working as an officer with the Scottsdale Police Department, serving a community with a population of approximately 217,000. In Scottsdale, Gesell moved up the ranks from patrol officer to division commander, where he was responsible for 100 sworn and civilian employees and an annual operating budget of $4.6 million, according to a SLO City news release.

Gesell began his law enforcement career on the Central Coast as a commander for the Atascadero Police Department, in late 2009.

“Steve has the right mix of leadership, vision, energy, and community-oriented focus,” Lichtig said in a news release. “He has amazing passion for serving the residents and broader community of San Luis Obispo. All of this led me to the conclusion that Steve will serve as our next police chief with honor and great distinction.”

As SLOPD chief, Gesell will be responsible for 83.5 full-time positions, including 57 sworn officers, and a departmental budget of $15.3 million. He will earn a starting salary of $157,508, not including benefits.

Gesell said he plans to draft his priorities much like his predecessor: preserving SLO’s quality of life and addressing alcohol and noise problems in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

He said at the conference that he is looking to get his “sea legs”—meeting with residents and city staff to discuss community issues—before instituting any changes.

“Over the last 23 years, there’s been differences [between departments he’s served], but the commonality is the sustaining of positive relationships,” he said.


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