Steve MacKinnon named new Santa Paula Police Chief
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Police Department
Published: November 02, 2005
Santa Paula Police Chief Steve MacKinnon
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Haiti is a long way from Santa Paula but new Police Chief Stephen MacKinnon will dramatically shift locations to become the city’s 13th law enforcement leader on Nov. 16.
“I’m excited...the feel and the town is what I was looking for,” said Chief MacKinnon, who was born in Michigan.
“Steve MacKinnon brings to Santa Paula a passion for working with communities and a high standard for ethics and integrity in law enforcement,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “He is an innovator who has a track record of searching for new and creative ways to deliver the best police services possible. Steve will be an asset to Santa Paula and will provide excellent leadership as he joins an outstanding team of police officers serving our community.”
Chief MacKinnon, 50, will be earning $110,122 annually after being selected for the job after a national recruitment effort that also included interview panels of area police chiefs, local SPPD personnel and citizens.
Chief MacKinnon has been working with the UN International Peace Task Force assigned to Kosovo as well as to Haiti assisting in the reorganizing and restructuring of national police departments.
Chief MacKinnon said he “Moved around quite a bit,” before the family settled in Connecticut where his parents remain.
It was in college that Chief MacKinnon decided to give law enforcement a try professionally. “Once I got my first police department job I was sure that I had made the right selection,” he noted.
With a Masters Degree in Public Administration from City University, a BS in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University and as a graduate of the National FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia Chief MacKinnon’s career includes leading the Avondale, Arizona, Salem, New Hampshire and Exeter, New Hampshire police departments.
He found that the assignment with the UN presented “very interesting challenges” in the poverty-stricken countries lacking medical care, housing and “certainly law enforcement...we used democratic police department principles as a guide to rebuild” organized policing systems. “Much of what I’ve done in the past are things that need fixing but the UN assignment was on a much larger scale.”
Chief MacKinnon’s background also includes teaching courses in the areas community orientated policing, community relations, police ethics, violence and aggression, grant writing and disaster management.
When it comes to grant writing, Chief MacKinnon has successfully applied for and administered grants well in excess of $4 million.
He has also completely redesigned and written police manuals including policies and procedures and has designed, developed and/or implemented community orientated policing programs ranging from volunteer programs to gang intervention.
Chief MacKinnon also has done management studies for police agencies, has a wide background in union relations/personnel management, has written five-year department master plans and overseen the design and construction of two police stations.
Chief MacKinnon said he has several reasons why he is coming to Santa Paula.
“Just the feel and the size of the town...I’ve always been interested in agencies this size, where you’re able to provide different services but still small enough” to know the officers and community. “It allows a certain amount of comfort level to be able to communicate with the officers on a day to day basis.”
The historic downtown impressed Chief MacKinnon: “It’s a walking town” that he explored “while poking around to see what would be the right match” professionally as well as personally.
Chief MacKinnon has studied the SPPD’s management audit but first “I really want to look at the department’s operations, how the agency serves the community with a new eye” and then consider any adjustments. “I want to give guidance and management to organization as a leader.”
His first weeks and months on the job will “Allow the officers and staff to know who I am, what my values are while I use that timeframe to know them. I’ll ride with them on the street, work with them in the station,” and examine services, “look at all the operations and come up with a master plan” addressing personnel, programs and equipment needs and improvements.
Chief MacKinnon is a proponent of “Value centered leadership” which he describes as “Do the right thing...when an officer comes into an ethical dilemma he can’t go wrong by saying do the right thing. I’ve been pleased” to see the results stemming from the seemingly simple mantra including at one particularly troubled police agency he oversaw and had to correct.
Professionalizing officers and improving services to the community are high on Chief MacKinnon’s list of accomplishments.
“I’m very big on customer service” which sometimes require retraining to mirror the principles and helpfulness that mark successful retail businesses. “It’s a subtle thing but really pays off in dividends down the line.”
Chief MacKinnon also wants to examine Citizen Patrol to see if the volunteer program should be expanded.
“We pay, train and equip officers so let’s put them to work where,” they are needed he noted.
In addition, “We’ll look at every idea that may have been floated in the past” for evaluation, as “that’s what’s exciting about a job like this.”
Chief MacKinnon also wants to get involved in the community: “I want to get involved wherever I can” in programs that have a link to the SPPD as well as community theater.
“I’ve been on stage - usually when they ran out of people and I got sucked into it - but I enjoy the back stage, building the sets,” and Chief MacKinnon said he is looking forward to visiting the Santa Paula Theater Center.
“In a community this size the leaders really take an interest in what is going on, are often very involved in police department issues and they all know each other” as well as being open to approaching the police chief to discuss ideas.
Although he said he had “exposure to Spanish” as a student, Chief MacKinnon is not bilingual.
He has worked at a department serving a significant Hispanic population and is a proponent of programs and incentives.
Aside from community theater, his hobbies include hiking and “reading voraciously” works of fiction and non-fiction, especially biographies and history. “I do like biographies a lot, they teach you about one person but also about that era.”
The father of three grown sons, Chief MacKinnon is engaged and said he also enjoys “working around the house, I always have a project going...it’s good therapy.”
When it comes to music “It’s very wide-ranging and whatever the mood strikes me I’ll pop in” for listening.
Chief MacKinnon enjoys films with a “well-written story” and although he didn’t see much television while with the UN one of his favorite shows is “The West Wing...I got a big kick out of Santa Paula and Arnold Vinick being the favorite son. That cinched my decision to come here,” he said with a laugh.
Chief MacKinnon considers his father his role model, a man who left the world of corporate leadership to become an appointed high-ranking state official and then returned to college, has done some teaching and is a docent at the Museum of Hartford.
His mother is a notable painter well known for her outdoor scenes of Suffield, Connecticut.
“Suffield has a downtown where each year they have a Memorial Day Parade, the Little Leaguers” and others marching down the main street. “I think there are a lot of similarities to Santa Paula...” noted Chief MacKinnon.