Three commanders now join Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen to oversee the department -- managing everything from training and recruitment to patrolling and investigation.
Working alongside Hansen are commanders Dan Cohen, Jack Dunn III and Marc Schneider, who all have expressed a desire to make both the department and community a better place.
Cohen: Managing administrative needs
Cohen is an out-of-the-box thinker, and he is using that ability in his new role overseeing the Santa Maria Police Department’s Administrative Division.
“With everything that we are doing, I want to say, ‘Can we do this better?’” Cohen said.
Cohen has spent 22 years in law enforcement, with most of those in the Santa Maria Police Department and, specifically, as a member of the Gang Suppression Team.
Evidence of Cohen’s unique approach to problems was the creation of the short film “Life Facing Bars: A Gang Prevention Documentary.” The film, born from Cohen's desire to create a different way spread the message of gang prevention, still is shown in many different venues to help young people make better choices when it comes to gangs.
Now, he is responsible for the budget, payroll and other administrative duties for the department that includes 129 sworn police officers.
When asked how he likes his new position Cohen said, “I love it. It is a new challenge.”
Training and recruitment are also part of Cohen’s duties.
“We have to look at what is happening in the world so that we can be prepared to provide an adequate response,” he said about his approach to training requirements for the police department.
Searching for new members for the Santa Maria Police Department is one of his most enjoyable responsibilities.
“I like recruiting ... because I enjoy working here and it is an easy sales pitch,” Cohen said.
When Cohen, a Central Coast native, is not trying to find new ways to improve the department, he enjoys spending time with his family and watching the San Francisco Giants.
Dunn: Overseeing patrol operations
Trust and good communication are the principles Dunn uses to lead the Santa Maria Police Department’s Patrol Operations Division, which is the division most often responsible for interacting with the public.
Dunn oversees the department’s traffic bureau, all patrol initiatives, community policing efforts and the department’s communications division.
“I’ve learned to trust my supervisors; we have really, really good people that I have full faith in." Dunn said. "One thing I don't do is micromanage."
Dunn said he meets regularly with his staff to ensure everyone has the information they need to successfully complete their duties.
“Having good communication with supervisors and management team is the key. It helps me run everything and be a part of everything,” he said.
To help support his police officers, Dunn now is working on implementing a mentorship program within his division.
“I am sitting in the seat I am in because I had good mentors," he said. "I want to help develop the future leaders of this organization and that starts at every level."
Asked if he had a message to relay to the community, Dunn said he wants the public to understand that "we have a lot of good men and women from all walks of life that are part of this department. They are moral and ethical and are committed to making the community better."
Dunn started his law enforcement career in the Marine Corps as a military policeman and a criminal investigator. He then spent four years as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department before coming to the Santa Maria Police Department 17 years ago.
The Laredo, Texas, native enjoys spending time with his family and hunting when he isn’t working.
“I enjoy being in the outdoors and the camaraderie,” Dunn said.
Schneider: Commanding investigations
The men and women who make up the department's Support Division enable Schneider to succeed in his role as leader.
The Support Division includes the Santa Maria Police Detective and Records bureaus, as well as the Scientific Investigations, Evidence and Property Control sections.
“When you first look at it, it seems like a lot. But when you start looking at the breakdown of who is there and who is running it, you see how it works,” Schneider said. “We have some great people that work here.”
A majority of those in Schneider’s division work on a variety of felony cases, which they must prioritize.
"The ones that deal with kids, person crimes, sex crimes, those are obviously the priority," Schneider said, adding his division also deals with crimes that are property-related.
The key, Schneider said, is balance and monitoring.
“You have to create a balance so you can serve the entire community. It’s about monitoring caseloads,” he explained.
Schneider has been in law enforcement for 24 years, most with the Santa Maria Police Department. He said it was always his dream to be a police officer.
“From the time I was 14 or 15 years old, I never thought of anything else,” he said.
Schneider is a Santa Maria native, having spent most of his life in the city. His family is in the area, and his brother, Duane Schneider, also works in the department as a member of the Traffic Division.
Though it can be challenging for a police officer to live in the city he works, Schneider wouldn't have it any other way.
He added he is thankful for the continued support, not just from citizens but from the City Council and city manager.
"Making law enforcement and public safety a priority is huge,” Schneider said.