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Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reflects on time in SLO, says leaving community will be a tough goodbye

Posted at 11:43 PM, Aug 27, 2020

After nearly five years serving her community, facing her fair share of criticism, San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell announced her resignation from the department, saying it will be a tough goodbye.

The announcement was made Aug. 27 she will be stepping down in one month where she will take over as police chief for the city of Fairfield, CA.

In addition to being closer to family, the new destination offers new challenges and opportunities Cantrell said she is looking forward to.

"I just had an outpouring of emails and text messages from people saying we love you, we appreciate you, we're so glad you're here," Chief Cantrell said.

Her tenure as Police Chief was not without controversy. On July 10, 2019, Cantrell admittedto leaving her personal firearm in an El Pollo Loco bathroom in San Luis Obispo.

"I was complacent and that's something you can never be with a firearm," she said at the time.

While tension in the community has since risen, following the arrest of Black Lives Matter Protester Tiana Arata, her influence to do good in the community has been recognized by those outside of city limits.

"I know of Deanna more in the last year than in the last five years and I thought she was just doing a great job trying to maintain like every city in America, what's going on," Arroyo Grande resident Jimmy Vargas said.

Cantrell said much of what is done in policing is outside of the public eye, yet is scrutinized from all over the country.

“Policing gets painted with a very, very broad brush," Chief Cantrell said. "Anyone that wears the uniform gets painted with a broad brush from something a police officer did across the nation.”

City Manager Derek Johnson said he supports Cantrell's departure and commends her for her effort to improve community safety in the city.

"One example is we've reduced our use of force by 50% in the last year, and I attribute that largely into the police chief," Johnson said.

During her time as Chief, Cantrell said she does not have any regrets but agrees work still needs to be done.

"We've got to do a better job about how our job works and what we do," she said.

With new territory ahead, the same goal remains.

"We exist to serve our community. We exist to reduce harm in our community."

Cantrell accepted the conditional position, waiting upon her background and psychological exams which should be finalized in the next three weeks. Her last day at SLOPD will be September 30.

There is no exact timeline yet as to when Cantrell's position will be filled. Captain Jeff Smith will be taking over as SLOPD's interim Police Chief.

A Fairfield city spokesperson says city leaders are aware of the incident involving Chief Cantrell's gun and believe it was handled in an appropriate manner.

"Chief Cantrell acknowledged that she made a mistake, and the gun was surrendered by the perpetrator without incident," said Bill Way, City of Fairfield spokesperson. "Prior to this incident, Chief Cantrell carried a firearm safely for 25 years."

Way said city officials are also aware of her handling of the July 21 Black Lives Matter protest during which organizer Tianna Arata was arrested.

"We agree with Chief Cantrell’s position and believe that she was working in the best interest of the community as a whole," Way said. "We stand by her decision on this matter."