Police Chief: Mesa to San Luis Obispo

Policing in a large city differs greatly from policing a small college town such as San Luis Obispo.

Chief of Police Deanna Cantrell pulls her experiences from dealing with the urban ruggedness of Mesa, AZ and applies the skills she has gained from this when dealing with the smaller college town of San Luis Obispo.

After a rigorous interview process, Chief Cantrell received a job offer for the position of Chief of Police in San Luis Obispo in early 2016, officially starting her position on Jan. 4.

Badges, medals and pictures of pitbulls orderly line the walls of Chief Cantrell’s office as she leans back in her desk chair.

“I wasn’t one of those people that ever thought that it would be something I would do,” Cantrell said. “Most of my family, the good majority, is on the other side of that fence.”

Cantrell entered the police force as a patrol officer at the age of 23, but prior to this attended school with intentions of becoming an art teacher.

Growing up in a family burdened with domestic violence, Cantrell became interested in joining the force after hearing a friend speak about the people he was able to help through his career in law enforcement.

“The only side I’d seen [of law enforcement] was they come to your house and arrest your parents,” Cantrell said. “I hadn’t really seen a good side, so that kind of planted a seed.”

After working as a patrol officer for three years, Cantrell began to move through the ranks steadily. She worked as a motorcycle officer, in undercover positions, several special operations positions and eventually made her way up to Assistant Chief of Police.

As of Jan., 2016, Mesa is the seventh safest city in the United States, according to Forbes Magazine. After 21 years of service on their police force, ending her time as the Assistant Chief of Police, Cantrell had a considerable contribution to this standing.

Along with being one of the safest cities, Mesa was named the most conservative city in the United States by Forbes Magazine as well.

Being a woman in the police force already proves a rare occurrence; only 12 percent of local departments are female, according to the Washington Post in July of 2015. But making it to such a high-ranking position in such a conservative, traditional city as a lesbian woman proves an even larger feat.

“I was the first out person in the police department ever,” Cantrell said. “”I had to make a choice in the very beginning, and I decided I’m not gonna lie about it.”

After someone reported seeing her and her girlfriend at the time inside their home, Cantrell was called into internal affairs and began to receive hate mail. Through hard work and perseverance, she came out on top both career wise and morally.

Cantrell strongly believes in empowering young women to achieve their goals and strive to accomplish what others may have told them was impossible.

“There’s a lot of reasons why law enforcement needs women,” Cantrell said. “We don’t use force as often as men. We depend on being able to communicate through a lot of problems.”

Female officers typically show more empathy towards citizens they are dealing with, Cantrell explained, enabling them to work more civilly and cooperatively with the police force. She emphasized the benefits of having both the male and female rationale when dealing with all situations .

“The only way there are gonna be more women in leadership roles is for them to understand the power that they really do have,” Cantrell said. “The only way you’re going to change anything is if you’re in a position where you can affect that change.

Before leaving Mesa, Cantrell started an organization called the Inspire Academy to begin train young girls from ages 14-17 who want to go into the police force.

“You’re strong, you’re capable,” Cantrell said when asked what she would say to young women hoping for a career in law enforcement. “This profession needs you because you offer it something that a lot of men can’t offer, which is both sides of that coin.”

Featured Photo Attribution: San Luis Obispo Police Department



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