Menlo Park Police Chief Robert Jonsen will cross the southern city line in January to take charge of the Palo Alto Police Department, Palo Alto officials announced Monday afternoon.
Jonsen has spent most of this 30-year career in southern California before getting tapped as Menlo Park's top cop in 2013. Now, he will serve in the same role in Palo Alto, where he will take over from interim Police Chief Ron Watson, a department veteran who has been leading the department since former Chief Dennis Burns retired in January.
Pending the City Council's approval next month, Jonsen will receive a salary of $260,000 salary, along with a housing rental stipend of $3,000 per month for 18 months. According to the city, the stipend was included in the compensation package to allow him to "maximize the time on the job and to fully immerse himself in the Palo Alto community as he builds relationships that are key as he assumes this new position."
The hiring of Jonsen came after what officials called a "nationwide search" which, at the end of the day, led Palo Alto to the city immediately to the north. Chief Communication Officer Claudia Keith and there were about six finalists for the position. Jonsen was picked after a process featuring numerous interviewing panels with community members, former police chiefs, attorneys and executive staff at City Hall.
Keith cited Jonsen's knowledge about Palo Alto as a bonus in considering the final selection.
"He's been in Menlo Park for four years and we're adjacent and have lots of shared issues," Keith said. "The communities are of different sizes but he’s quite familiar with Palo Alto."
Before coming to Menlo Park, Jonsen has served in several law enforcement agencies in southern California, including a stint as a lieutenant at the Palmdale Sheriff's station, a position he held between 2005 and 2008. He had also spent two years as the assistant director for the Regional Community Police Institute, an initiative focused on community policing. Accordin to the city's announcement, Jonsen developed training programs on ethics and responding to domestic violence.
Between 2008 and 2011, he coordinated the Antelope Valley Crime Fighting Initiative, which aimed to reduce violent crimes. After that, he served as captain and police chief for the Lancaster Sheriff's station, where he was responsible for a 600-mile geographical area and a force of 300 sworn personnel. According to Palo Alto's news release, the homicide rate dropped by 23 percent during his tenure in the position.
In Menlo Park, Jonsen has been leading a department with 70 sworn and civilian staff and a budget of about $16 million. Starting Jan. 9, he will be taking over a Palo Alto department with more than twice as many positions and a $42.3 million budget.
During his four-year stint at Menlo Park, Jonsen helped implement the city's adoption of body-worn cameras, establish a partnership with Facebook and create a Citizen Advisory Commission overseeing the department (in Palo Alto, the Human Relations Commission serves a similar role), according to the city's announcement.
He also introduced "mindfulness training" to the department, which culminated in a three-day trip to Bend, Oregon for 25 members of the department last April for 16- to 20-hour sessions. That was the first of three planned excursions on "resilience and mindfulness" (the third and final one is set for February), which will ultimately cover the entire Menlo Park police staff at a total cost of $177,000.
Palo Alto's news release calls Jonsen a "leader in the field of mindfulness training for law enforcement" and in developing "compassion cultivation training for public safety and the community." Last year, he was honored with the Golden Acorn Award for "Outstanding Public Service" from the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce.
In his announcement of the new hire, City Manager James Keene called Jonsen "well regarded for his ability to connect with the community, as well as for his innovative approaches to community policing, leadership and mentoring of police and professional staff."
"His deep experience in a nearby city and increasingly senior and complex assignments in all aspects of law enforcement bring extraordinary value to the position of police chief," Keene said. "We look forward to having him join Palo Alto to lead our stellar Police Department."
Jonsen also received rave reviews from his current boss, Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntire, who called Jonsen a "tremendous asset."
"I think Palo Alto is going to come out ahead with a tremendous new police chief I think the whole community is going to be really proud of," McIntire said. "Bob is someone who can lead a bigger, more challenging department if that's what he wanted to do."
The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to confirm Jonsen's hiring on Dec. 11. Pending the council's approval and the finalization of background check requirements, Jonsen would start his new job on Jan. 9.
In a statement, Jonsen said he was "grateful and excited" about being selected as Palo Alto's next chief and "privileged" to become part of the team in Palo Alto.
"I look forward to working with the entire Palo Alto community for many years to come and will do my best to earn their trust and to provide leadership to a department full of amazing people who truly care about and want to serve this city with professionalism, integrity and respect."
Almanac staff writer Kate Bradshaw contributed to this report.