Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 9:59 pm | Fair 57º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Santa Maria’s New Police Chief Phil Hansen Looks to Fine-Tune Agency’s Transformation

He brings four decades of law enforcement experience to the job, including 20 years with SWAT

Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, center, administers the oath of office to Police Chief Phil Hansen Tuesday night while Hansen’s wife of 42 years, Debbie, stands nearby. Click to view larger
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, center, administers the oath of office to Police Chief Phil Hansen Tuesday night while Hansen’s wife of 42 years, Debbie, stands nearby. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

When Phil Hansen joined the Santa Maria Police Department he made a key change — disbanding the SWAT team in the process of rebuilding it under his philosophy.

Hansen, 62, brought two decades of expertise with SWAT — special weapons and tactics — and arrived to find the Santa Maria unit too small and too focused on weaponry. 

“We changed the culture. For one thing we made sure everybody understands clearly that the underlying purpose of a SWAT team is to save lives,” said Hansen, who was naming acting police chief before getting the permanent job to replace Ralph Martin, who recently retired. 

A formal swearing-in ceremony occurred during the Santa Maria City Council meeting Tuesday night with Mayor Alice Patino administering the oath and Hansen's wife of 42 years, Debbie, pinned on his badge.

City Manager Rick Haydon called Hansen the right person for the job at the right time, recalling the attributes stakeholders identified five years ago during the previous search for a police chief.

“After reviewing this list of attributes and after personally working with Phil for the last several years, I came to the quick conclusion that we had our chief within the department and there was no need to go outside the department,” Haydon said.

Martin hired Hansen to serve as a commander in the rebuilding of the department. A series of incidents culminated with the officer-involved shooting of a SMPD officer while two supervisors attempted to arrest him for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in the Police Explorers program.

“We’ve come a long way in several years. I like to think that I’ve been a part of that effort and we want to continue on that same path of improvement,” Hansen said.

He and Martin were previously colleagues at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Phil Hansen of the Santa Maria Police Department watches his wife, Debbie, pin on his badge during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Click to view larger
Chief Phil Hansen of the Santa Maria Police Department watches his wife, Debbie, pin on his badge during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Hansen started April 1, 2013, eight months after Martin arrived, joining the force to help transform the department tackling immediate concerns followed by dealing with infrastructure since as the new station and new radio communication system. 

That job will continue under his leadership, he said. 

“There’s just a number of things to take us to the next level in terms of professionalizing the organization,” Hansen said. “I think we’re a top flight organization right now but that doesn’t mean that there are not significant improvements to make.”

In rebuilding the SWAT team, Hansen implemented an application and testing process to choose new members, with interviews where questions really didn’t center on tactics.

“The focus was more on character, work ethic and team building,” he said. 

He brought in the best instructors from across the country using his contacts in 24 years as a director of the National Tactical Officers Association, including spending time as chairman and instructor. 

The new team members spent a year going through training before assuming responsibilities again, with Hansen promoting a slow approach to resolving incidents when possible. 

The department’s crisis negotiators have been integrated into operations along with the K-9 team to boost the flexibility during incidents.

Chief Phil Hansen of the Santa Maria Police Department poses with City Manager Rick Haydon on Tuesday night. Click to view larger
Chief Phil Hansen of the Santa Maria Police Department poses with City Manager Rick Haydon on Tuesday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“There’s always more options than just running in the door and then forcing a confrontation,” he added.

And SWAT members have another key role to play, Hansen said, adding he wants them to have the best uniform appearance and show leadership skills.

“I expect them, in short, to be the people that young officers coming on the department look up to and say, ‘I want to be that guy some day,’” Hansen said. “I want them to set the example.”

In one recent incident, a man shooting inside his house and outside windows at officers, the SWAT team members worked to get the suspect to safely surrender. 

“That’s the kind of discipline they show these days,” Hansen said. 

Hansen was studying business at California State University, Northridge and encountered off-duty law enforcement officers working security at a hardware store.

He joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on reserve duty before seeking a full-time gig where he spent 36 years at the agency.

“It’s a wonderful career. I haven’t looked back,” he said.

“I love the fact there’s a little different challenge every day. And I love the fact that you can actually say if you do your job well, you’re doing something that’s noble. There’s a purpose to it.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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