Palo Alto Hires New Police Chief

Palo Alto has hired a new top cop. Robert A. Jonsen, who currently serves as Chief of Police in Menlo Park, was named head of the Palo Alto Police Department Monday. He’s replacing Dennis Burns who retired last year. Ron Watson has held the interim job since.

The city would have been hard pressed to find someone more seasoned than Jonsen.

“His deep experience in a nearby city and increasingly senior and complex assignments in all aspects of law enforcement bring extraordinary value to the position of police chief,” said Palo Alto City Manager James Keene. “We look forward to having him join Palo Alto to lead our stellar Police Department.”

In addition to his time in Menlo Park, Jonsen has worked for a number of departments throughout Southern California, according to a city press release.

From 2011 to 2013, Jonsen was Captain/Chief of Police for the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station where he was responsible for police operations for a geographical area covering 600 miles with 300 sworn personnel. During his tenure in this position, the overall crime rate dropped by 5.3 percent including a reduction in homicides by 23 percent.

From 2008 to 2011, Jonsen served as coordinator of the Antelope Valley Crime Fighting Initiative (AVCFI) focused on reducing violent crimes over a 1,370 square mile area. From 2005 to 2008, Jonsen was a Lieutenant at the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station with oversight of 264 station personnel and a $20 million budget. He also served as Watch Commander for the station focused on gang violence reduction; as a Lieutenant at the North County Correctional Facility (2004-2005) and as an Operation’s Sergeant in the Administrative Services Division. Jonsen also spent two years as the Assistant Director for the Regional Community Policing Institute, a six-county federally-funded community policing training institute where he developed domestic violence training programs, ethics and integrity, as well as first responder training.

During the first part of his career, Jonsen worked in the Custody Division (1986 to 1988); as a field training officer, patrol deputy and member of the gang enforcement team at the Lennox Station (1988-1994); as a department instructor in field operations training/force training unit (1994 to 2000), and as a Patrol Sergeant for the Temple Station (2000-2001).

Jonsen is expected to earn a salary of $260,000 with a $3,000-per-month rental stipend for 18 months.


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