Santa Cruz Police Department Chief Andy Mills.
(Grace Stetson / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Police Chief Andy Mills saying farewell to the ‘jewel’ that is Santa Cruz: ‘This is just an amazing city’

After four years leading the Santa Cruz Police Department, Chief Andy Mills is moving closer to his grandchildren in San Diego by taking the job of chief in Palm Springs.

The distinctive face and voice of the Santa Cruz Police Department is departing after four years at the helm.

Chief Andy Mills announced his resignation Tuesday morning, effective Oct. 29. Mills — who has held the role since July 2017 — has accepted the role of chief of police for the city of Palm Springs.

While Mills has been with the department for only four years, his impact has spread throughout the area because of his gregarious nature, outspoken presence and face-first approach to the job. Mills led the department through the impact of COVID-19, and worked in tandem with local Black activists during the 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd.

He received national attention for kneeling alongside then-mayor Justin Cummings during a protest on May 30, 2020, a moment captured by Sentinel photographer Shmuel Thaler. Cummings told Lookout he viewed Mills as “a national law enforcement leader.”

“He has been committed to working with the African American community and others that have traditionally had negative interactions with law enforcement to build trust and confidence,” he said.

Ultimately, as Mills told Lookout, he has been able to succeed in his role because of the people of the Santa Cruz Police Department and the greater Santa Cruz community.

“This is just an amazing city and an amazing police department, and I can’t speak more highly of the men and women who have really dedicated themselves to sacrificing to police the city,” he said.

Mills, with 38 years in law enforcement, held top positions in Eureka and San Diego before coming to Santa Cruz. In 2000, he received the Police Executive Research Forum Gary P. Hayes Award for his efforts to improve policing nationwide.

While in Santa Cruz, Mills took the experiences from his previous positions to find a better connection with community members and maintain leadership through challenging circumstances.

“What I’ve learned is to trust people, including our community members, and just the mere fact of how we’ve collaborated to overcome some of the barriers and obstacles to solve problems,” he said. “If there’s anything I take from this experience, it’s the more you collaborate, the better off you are.”

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said he admires Mills’ attitude and constant community support.

“I’ve always appreciated his endless energy,” Coonerty said. “I think one of the key principles to leadership is engaging your community and he did that. He added a really thoughtful voice to the conversation around racial injustice and police reform.”

Now, Mills is on to his next adventure in Palm Springs — mainly to ensure he has as much time with his grandchildren as possible.

“My grandchildren are in San Diego, so it affords me the opportunity to be more involved in their life,” he said. “They’re getting to an age — 7 to 1 1/2, there’s four of them — where there’s truly a relationship ... those are the kinds of things as a grandpa and a dad that I want to be a part of.”

According to city communications manager Elizabeth Smith, Santa Cruz will announce an interim replacement for Mills before his departure, and likely by the end of this week. The city will lead the search for the permanent appointee and share information concerning the recruitment process when it becomes available.

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Cummings expressed a desire for the Public Safety Committee and other community members to participate in the hiring of the next police chief.

“I know that I’ve been contacted by a number of people already interested in what the process will be like,” he said, adding that those with historically negative experiences with law enforcement will be particularly interested. “I want to know if there’s any way that we can direct them to opportunities to engage and provide feedback to be a part of that process.”

Although he’s leaving, Mills said he is certain Santa Cruz will continue to be a strong and special place because of the community.

“I’ve been doing this for four years here — our people internally are more than ready, very capable, and I believe can take the city to a new height,” he said. “This is an amazing city, it’s a jewel — its people are just amazing. I hope that people really recognize the sacrifice and effort that our men and women are making to make it special.”

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story overstated the role interim City Manager Rosemary Menard would have in the search for the permanent replacement.