Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen is planning to retire as he eyes a run to replace Laurie Smith as Santa Clara County sheriff.
While Jonsen has not set a date for stepping down, he has alerted City Manager Ed Shikada about his plan to retire. The city's Human Relations Commission alluded to Jonsen's pending departure at its Wednesday meeting, when the panel's members discussed their role in selecting a new leader for the Police Department.
The Rev. Kaloma Smith, who chairs the commission, called the city's search for a new chief a "big deal" and said he wants to make sure the commission is "there for this." The commission's task will be to come up with the ideal criteria for the new chief so that the city could have a "dream list" of qualities for possible candidates.
"We can't complain in 36 months about police policies and police chief (if), when we had the opportunity, we did not give clear, concise, policy-minded consideration to this process," Smith said. "This is not about personalities. I don't care what the one before did and this one did. I care about what are the characteristics that we need in the city from the next one."
Shikada confirmed that Jonsen has announced his intent to retire. The next step, Shikada said, will be gathering community input about what they want to see in a chief. The commission, which has played a central role in advancing the city's Race an Equity initiative, will be heavily involved in that effort.
The commission's discussion came a week after Jonsen formed a committee to explore a run for Santa Clara County sheriff. He is one of at least three current or former officers — along with Kevin Jensen, who retired as captain from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office; Christine Nagaye, who is currently a sergeant there; and Dave Knopf, a former assistant chief in the San Jose Police Department — who are preparing to vie for the position held by Smith, a six-term incumbent whose term has been rocked by scandals and investigations.
During its last few searches for a new police chief, Palo Alto had hired a recruiting firm to assist with the search. Shikada said the city hasn't gone that far yet in its effort to find Jonsen's successor. The main focus at the moment, he said, is community outreach.
"We're going to take it one step at a time," Shikada said.
Jonsen's pending retirement comes after more than three decades in law enforcement, most of them in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. After 26 years in Los Angeles, where he rose to the captain's rank, Jonsen was hired as police chief in Menlo Park in 2013. He served in that position until 2017, when he left to take the top police job in Palo Alto.
Jonsen couldn't be immediately reached for comment.