A 25-year veteran of the department and current deputy chief has been named Santa Cruz’s interim police chief. The search for a permanent chief to replace the outgoing Andy Mills will begin following the hiring of a city manager, expected to occur in early November.
Deputy Chief Bernie Escalante has been named the Santa Cruz Police Department’s interim chief, effective Oct. 30.
Escalante is a Santa Cruz native and has been with the department for 25 years. He began as a community service officer in 1996 and soon after became a patrol officer. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003.
In 2009, Escalante was promoted to lieutenant and managed the Investigations Division and was the commander of the Emergency Services Unit Tactical Team. He has served as deputy chief since February 2020.
Interim City Manager Rosemary Menard said she expects Escalante to excel in this position.
“Interim Chief Escalante will bring to the position a deep knowledge of department operations and officers and a sharp focus on serving the needs of the community,” she said in a news release. “I am confident in his leadership as he takes on this critical role for the City.”
Current chief Andy Mills is stepping down Oct. 29; he announced his departure Oct. 12 to take the role of police chief of Palm Springs.
Escalante is ready to get started.
“I plan to hit the ground running. My first priorities will be building our staffing and expanding on the trusting community relationships and innovative problem-solving brought to Santa Cruz by Chief Mills,” he said in the release. “I am constantly impressed by the dedication and professionalism of our law enforcement team here in Santa Cruz, and I am honored to lead this dynamic department as Interim Chief.”
Santa Cruz City Councilmember Justin Cummings is likewise confident in Escalante’s abilities.
“I have nothing but positive experiences with him,” he said. “He is a great fit, he is really dedicated and understands what this community needs.”
Cummings was also pleased with Escalante’s presence during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd last year.
“Andy Mills had a meeting with the community and his staff, with Escalante being among them,” he said. “He was very willing to work with the community to figure out the best ways to create positive change.”
The search for a permanent police chief will happen following the hiring of a permanent city manager. Officials said a round of interviews for that job will be happening this weekend, and they hope to make an announcement about the city’s new top executive in early November.