Fired Police Chief MacKinnon leaves legacy of SPPD accomplishments

June 15, 2012
Santa Paula Police Department

In 2003 the Santa Paula Police Department was the focus of a wide-ranging City Council-ordered study that resulted in an at times highly critical management audit.

Leading up to the audit, then-City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz formed a team to interview the three firms that submitted proposals.

On the interviewing panel were representatives of the Santa Paula Police Officers Association as well as a representative of the California Attorney General's office and retired Pomona Police Chief Richard Tefank. Bobkiewicz and then-Police Chief Bob Gonzales completed the panel.

The resulting 70-plus-page report by Arroyo Associates took four months to complete. Released in January 2005, the audit had 39 specific recommendations including the creation of a Strategic Plan.

The report found the Santa Paula Police Department to be inefficient, outdated and underfunded, though well regarded by residents. "Given its limited resources, the Santa Paula Police Department does a good job providing the community with basic policing services," the study found. "However, an inefficient use of the Department's already inadequate resources impairs [its] efforts to deliver truly effective police services."

Among the top priorities of embattled former Police Chief Steve MacKinnon, who was fired last week, was to implement the recommendations of the audit as he saw fit, as well as to redefine the SPPD.

MacKinnon always claimed that the list of programs, policies, concepts and guidelines achieved during his tenure were not his own, but rather resulted from joint efforts. There is no denying that MacKinnon took the lead and made sure they happened, but he always emphasized that SPPD personnel as well as the community were directly involved with the successes highlighted by his supporters during comments made at City Council meetings.

MacKinnon's creation of an initial Five-Year Strategic Plan unveiled in 2006, about three months after he was hired, covered five major areas (personnel, equipment, programs, training, and capital outlay) with 97 goals and objectives identified. Over the five-year period, quarterly reports were provided to City Council that outlined an 85%+ achievement rate. Creation of a second Five-Year Strategic Plan was presented to the Council in 2010 to continue the efforts of the first, while adding many new goals and objectives.

Police Training and Certification was created to offset officer-training levels that had been neglected. After about 18 months of training and records management updates, all personnel were brought back into compliance with California POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) standards; regular POST audits showed compliance was maintained.

MacKinnon significantly expanded training for all levels of the SPPD. Field Officer Training program certification was an in-depth POST-certified program now used for training of all new police personnel.

MacKinnon adopted a Police Management Reorganization model more in line with modern policing philosophies for an agency the size of the SPPD. The reorganization did not increase supervisory personnel numbers, nor did it increase pay and/or benefits when it was introduced.

Civilian Supervision was created to oversee non-police operations within the agency, to allow a more efficient use of manpower without increases in the budget. MacKinnon adopted a department-wide Community Oriented Policing Philosophy, nationally recognized as one of the best methods in delivering services that ensure community involvement in police operations.

Adoption of an "Ethics in Policing" management model that expects ethics and integrity to be an integral part of all police functions includes an annual re-affirmation by all SPPD employees of an "Oath of Honor." This oath is posted throughout the facility, in police vehicles, and on the back of SPPD business cards. In addition, an ethics element is included in all in-house training and accountability is addressed routinely at the supervisory and line levels.

Evidence Management took an existing operation that was in complete failure and required an 18-month audit to complete. MacKinnon wrote a new policy manual for all evidence and property handling, redirected grant funding for additional evidence personnel, and established an Evidence Trust Fund for the management of seized currency that has resulted in over $40,000 being returned for city use.

Recognizing that the Arroyo study had recommended the elimination of the K-9 Unit, MacKinnon launched a full review with new policies, equipment and operational directives adopted for a more efficient operation. Independent funding was identified to expand and improve this program.

The Special Response Team (SRT) was also recommended to be cut, but after a full review of the program MacKinnon created a core management team (the "Round Table") to solve SRT-related problems. A new SRT Operations Manual was written (including job descriptions, equipment, policies and procedures), and new training and procedures were implemented.

MacKinnon updated significantly out-of-date Policies and Procedures that represented a significant threat toward civil liability and operational integrity with a newly written General Orders manual system, utilizing proper policing methods while also meeting National Accreditation standards.

The SPPD Station - except for the kitchen and MacKinnon's own office - was renovated and upgraded, with much done by volunteer labor and/or with funding other than city revenue sources. MacKinnon also took a lead in establishing the nonprofit Santa Paula Police and Fire Foundation that supports public safety efforts for the community.

Parking Enforcement formerly operated under a system that was failing to collect a majority of revenue for parking tickets - an outside provided computerized enforcement - that resulted in over $50,000 in revenue each year. Earlier this year a new vendor was selected that will bring in even greater revenue.

In spite of more than 23,000 calls for service each year Records Management/Document Imaging is now computerized, which allows accurate records keeping as well as efficient retrieval for public and criminal justice agency inquiries.

In-house Background Investigations was brought in-house with a contractor (now shared with the Santa Paula Fire Department) that greatly reduced cost while allowing for more efficient and effective investigations to be conducted.

During MacKinnon's watch a Police Vehicle Rehabilitation program was launched to rehabilitate vehicles at approximately 20% of the cost of a new vehicle.

MacKinnon worked with community and business leaders in completely rewriting the Filming ordinance and filming procedures, and had the SPPD take the lead in liaisons with film companies, adopting practices that encourage film production within the community to generate revenue to the City and businesses.

A Quality of Life Initiative program was developed to encourage police officers to focus enforcement efforts on lower level crimes that interrupt the quality of life of our citizens, from graffiti to noisy parties.

Before the SPPD force of sworn officers was reduced by about one-third due to attrition, MacKinnon established the "Looking Beyond the Traffic Ticket" practice to encourage officers to look beyond the original reason why a vehicle was stopped to possibly identify other criminal activity that may be present, resulting in numerous arrests for weapon and narcotics violations.

Digital cameras were issued to every officer to photographically document greater numbers of incidents and evidence for electronic attachment to the report for enhanced investigations. Digital audio recorders were also issued to document interviews of victims, suspects and witnesses in the field for report attachment, often the best defense when an officer is accused of misconduct; the practice significantly improved the SPPD's ability to defend officer actions in civil suits.

MacKinnon implemented expanding the use of Less-Lethal Weapons. Each SPPD officer is now is issued a Taser, and each patrol vehicle now carries a less-lethal (bean bag) shotgun, equipment that has reduced officer and arrestee injuries while reducing potential liability for incidents where force may be required.

The Police/Clergy Council was established to work with the SPPD on issues of mutual concern, including juvenile and senior citizen issues, and early release of prisoners into our community.

Training Bulletins - more than 50 - were written in-house on a variety of topics to keep personnel up-to-date on changes in laws, new court decisions, and other issues within the criminal justice system. In addition, MacKinnon had produced more than 15 Roll Call Training Videos or Power Point presentations provided to personnel during their Roll Call briefings to complement Training Bulletins.

The chief took a leadership role in the Mobile Command Post committee that researched, developed and garnered approval for a MCP built for use in emergency operations.

Mobile Data Terminals resulted from identifying unspent federal grant funding to establish a mobile network that allows computer communications in patrol vehicles. After a four-year effort, the SPPD is near closing a complicated deal that will allow officers to access a number of police databases from these computers.

The Promotional Process was upgraded after the Arroyo study criticized the lack of an effective selection process for promotions and specialized assignments, using an effective and professional testing method as well as scenario-based testing of the candidates.

The Reserve Officer Unit had been dormant, with never more than 10 officers. MacKinnon gradually expanded the unit to 30 officers, including Reserve Supervisors and specialized unit positions. In addition, a specially designed, multi-phased selection process was created to identify the best candidates within the county.

The Technical Reserve Officer Program was created as a "sub-unit" of the Reserve Unit, an additional 10 certified officers without arrest powers but carrying out police support duties (such as Booking and Transport Officer assignments) that allows keeping full-time officers on patrol.

Establishment of Court-accepted Gang Experts was done at the request of the District Attorney's office, which enhanced the expertise of a number of SPPD officers who were court certified as "gang experts" and allowing for enhanced penalties for defendants with gang affiliations.

The long overdue Santa Paula Police Memorial resulted from a small community-based volunteer group that oversaw creation of the monument to honor police officers who died in the line of duty.

MacKinnon implemented SPPD Twitter and Facebook accounts on the social media sites to be more "community friendly," while keeping citizens better informed about police operations.

Police Radio Upgrades were launched to meet FCC mandated technology upgrades that had to be met no later than 2013. The entire radio communication system was upgraded using grant funding. Complete Dispatch/Communications Center Upgrades were completed using Verizon/State funding sources for computers, improved 9-1-1 technology and other support equipment replacement.

Live Scan Technology

Electronic fingerprinting capabilities are now available for fee-based public use, which required no city expenditure.

Citizen Complaints and Internal Investigations were lacking, with no reliable system in place. MacKinnon established an effective citizen complaint reception method that met state mandates, and accreditation standards that ensure citizens are kept informed, maintain the rights of the SPPD employee, and include an annual internal audit and review.

Use of Force Investigations and Review policies and procedures were implemented that mandate a "Use of Force" report submitted, no matter how minor, that includes a multi-tier review process, continuous re-evaluation of training and policy requirements, and an annual committee review of all reports.

MacKinnon urged that the city create its own no-kill animal shelter about two years ago. Just weeks ago Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center opened, a partnership with a non-profit no-kill shelter that will expand animal control services to the community while reducing city expenses by about $40,000 annually.

MacKinnon also approved the creation of a Police Explorer program. SPPD officers and support personnel voluntarily oversee a very large and very visible program of teens interested in police operations.

MacKinnon also implemented an active Awards and Recognition Program that formally recognizes SPPD personnel in a variety of methods for conduct and performance over and above their regular duties.

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