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San Luis Obispo County

SLO police chief explains decision to leave for new job

Deanna Cantrell
Deanna Cantrell is leaving San Luis Obispo to be the Chief of Police in Fairfield.

San Luis Obispo, CALIF. - While the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney considers charges against a Black Lives Matter protest organizer, the police chief who brought the charges is leaving for a new job.

Deanna Cantrell said on Tuesday she would serve as long as the city manager would have her. Shortly thereafter, Cantrell accepted a job as the Fairfield Chief of Police. A San Luis Obispo news release issued Thursday afternoon said Cantrell began the recruitment process with the city of Fairfield in May of this year.

"I've always been very clear San Luis Obispo wouldn't be my last stop," Cantrell said.

Cantrell came to San Luis Obispo nearly five years ago after serving 21 years with the city of Mesa, Arizona.

"I came from a large department, and wanted to go to another community where I could be a police chief a second time and take everything I learned the first time and apply that in another city," Cantrell said. "So I've been looking around and Fairfield happened to be the right place."

Cantrell said she's mostly accomplished all that she set out to do when she became Chief of Police for the first time in San Luis Obispo.

"I believe that the police and the community absolutely can work together and collaborate and make for a better city and a better community and better policing that's meaningful for a community," Cantrell said. "I feel like that has certainly been accomplished in San Luis Obispo."

She leaves amid criticism and calls for her to resign over her department's handling of Black Lives Matter protests, using tear gas to break up one demonstration and recommending felony charges against a separate protest organizer, Tianna Arata.

"The police department's actions ultimately were not only appropriate but lawful," Cantrell said.

The attorney for Arata called for Cantrell's job on Tuesday at a rally attended by hundreds of people supporting the protest organizer.

"She is as bad as it gets right now," Attorney Curtis Briggs said Tuesday.

The charges Cantrell is recommending against Arata include participation in a riot and false imprisonment. Cars were blocked from moving during a protest that went onto Highway 101. District Attorney Dan Dow is reviewing the recommended charges. He is expected to make a decision before Arata's first scheduled court appearance on September 3.

"It is a challenging time for all of us, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to work through this as a community," City Manager Derek Johnson said.

Johnson credits Cantrell for reducing use of force by 50 percent, integrating social workers, and reducing crime. He said he'll seek input from the community in selecting the next chief.

"We're engaging people in our community that have felt marginalized, and we'll expect to hear from them on ways that we can meaningfully change San Luis Obispo into the future so that everyone feels welcome," Johnson said.

Cantrell said San Luis Obispo has had upwards of 30 protests since June 1st and 99 percent of them have been lawful and peaceful.

"We can educate, we can collaborate, we can work together," Cantrell said. "But ultimately the people at the event - the protest - decide how that's going to go by their own decisions," Cantrell said.

She says criticism comes with the job, but leaving now to become the chief in Fairfield was not an easy decision.

"I have really long lasting relationships that make it really difficult to leave, but I am excited to go on to the next challenge," Cantrell said.

Last summer Cantrell was suspended and docked two days pay for leaving her gun in an El Pollo Loco restroom where it was stolen. She apologized at the time for her carelessness.

September 30 will be Cantrell's last day in San Luis Obispo.

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Scott Hennessee

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