New Police Chief Gonshak to put ‘Seal Beach First’

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Seal Beach Police Chief Phil Gonshak. Courtesy photo

Police Chief Phil Gonshak came to Seal Beach in 2007. Prior to that he worked at the Tempe, Arizona Police Department where he served for seven years. Chief Gonshak started as a patrol officer at the SBPD and he has risen through the ranks to be Chief of the Seal Beach Police Department. Though his formal swearing-in ceremony will be held next week, he officially became head of the department on Dec. 1.

His plans include a “Seal Beach First Campaign” through his Public Information Office. The purpose of this campaign is:

1) To promote crime prevention through community engagement

2) To increase security and safety of all of our parents, children and staff at McGaugh Elementary

3) Provide relatable opportunities for the community to experience law enforcement first hand via a Seal Beach Police Department Citizens Academy

4) To improve the Seal Beach Police Department’s technological infrastructure

5) To create internal staff development processes and matrices through training and formal education partnerships

Gonshak said his success was due in part because of the unwavering support of City Manager Jill Ingram, who selected him to succeed Chief Joe Miller. He described her as a critical component to the police department’s success over the past decade—“If it weren’t for her trust in our staff, none of this would have been possible.”

In addition to his own promotion from commander to chief, several Seal Beach officers have been promoted. The promotions have created an opening for a new police officer. (For details about the new promotions within the SBPD, see page 9.)

‘Seal Beach First’

The “Seal Beach First Campaign” is expected to include a regular series of crime prevention through community engagement articles in the Sun Newspaper, tentatively titled “The Briefing Room.” The purpose of this is to provide the community and those interested with critical weekly updates and perhaps some of the funny stories that our officers experience in the course of their duties (no names will be shared). A daily social media campaign, police department website updating, door hanging emergency services “how to” flyers, and additional Coffee with a Cop meetings are some of the ideas he has for this campaign.

McGaugh Elementary

As the father of three daughters, two of whom attended McGaugh Elementary School from Kindergarten-5th Grade, Chief Gonshak is passionate about the safety of the school. He wants to see brighter crosswalks painted as well as increased patrols and enforcement in the area around the school.

He also wants to embrace the already established relationships and partnerships he has with what he describes as “sensational people” like LAUSD Superintendent Andrew Pulver and the McGaugh Principal, Roni Ellis. Gonshak also said children need to see police officers as a resource for help. He said police officers often receive requests from parents to help with their children, but unfortunately these requests take the form of parents threatening to have their children arrested if they misbehave – “Our entire image (the uniform, badge and gun) is based on fear and I want to get out of the fear business, as it pertains to our children.” Instead of fearing the police, Chief Gonshak wants children to run towards officers during an emergency. Furthermore, it has been his promise for the past year to both Principal Ellis and the PTA to have a police department representative attend every single PTA meeting for the simple idea of opening greater lines of communication between parents and the city.

Seal Beach Police Department’s Citizens Academy

As part of the “Seal Beach First Campaign,” Chief Gonshak plans to have a “citizens’ academy” to teach the community more about their police department. “This program will help teach our community what the police department does on a daily basis and will provide them an opportunity to understand the life and death situations that need a reaction within seconds of processing the information.”

Chief Gonshak said Patrol Corporal Joe Garcia came forward with the idea a year ago when testing for promotion, and has been getting the ball rolling ever since. A program description will be presented to the Seal Beach City Council at 7 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2020, at City Council Chambers – with a TBD start date/time in February 2020.

Technology

One of his goals is for the Seal Beach Police Department is to become a paperless police department – “We need to finally become technologically advanced,” he said. For example, the police department has not implemented body cameras for officers. Gonshak plans to roll out body cameras in the next year or two, as this project has become a countywide trend that we need to be part of – “The benefit is to protect internal investigations from he said/she said” situations, Gonshak stated. Additionally, the cameras would give officers the advantage of providing a much more detailed report and will protect our officers from suspects “lodging false complaints.”

He described body cameras as beneficial to internal investigations and will aid in successful prosecutions.

According to the Chief, the city would also benefit from Automated License Plate Reading (ALPR) technology. Sgt. Nick Nicholas, the new public information officer and operations/administrative sergeant, once used ALPR technology to locate a missing woman from Leisure World. She was entered into the system as a critical missing person who was last seen in her vehicle. Nicholas logged into the

ALPR system, set up an alert, and 20 minutes later received an email that the woman’s license plate had been scanned in Chino, California. Sgt. Nicholas coordinated with officers from that department to locate the missing woman and reunited her with her family.

Sgt. Nicholas explained that the ALPR takes photographs of license plates and geotags the locations of vehicles, making the ALPR extremely helpful to investigations. Another helpful tool is when a vehicle is entered into the stolen vehicle system; it becomes “synced” with ALPR and will alert officers audibly if they drive by a reported stolen vehicle. According to Sergeant Nicholas, a rough estimate of the cost in placing an ALPR camera at every intersection in Seal Beach would be approximately $500,000. Gonshak confirmed there is no grant money for the project.

Internal staff development and education

Chief Gonshak believes education is of paramount importance to policework police work. He noted that the City has excellent employee benefits regarding its tuition reimbursement program which, coupled with training, allows officers the necessary tools to promote and affords him the ability to recruit from within. Police Science studies have shown that law enforcement officers with training and education above the required state guidelines reduce both use of force and complaint driven incidents.

Chief Gonshak on all the changes

“Two things law enforcement professionals can’t stand is change and no change,” Gonshak said. The changes brought by his promotion have created a need to train a few additional leaders in their new assignments. He said it will be of minimal challenge to simultaneously train them, as his SBPD staff is prepared and excited to hit the ground running. The 2020/2021 Fiscal Year budget process will determine whether or not the police department will seek additional officers and/or professional staffing.

Chief ADAMANTLY supports the Seal Beach Police Department’s Detention Center

Asked if Seal Beach needs its own jail, Chief Gonshak said having a jail provides his staff with the ability to reduce the booking turnaround time. He said if you look at police departments around the world, several have jails both with and without full or part time staff. If there is no staff, then police officers are booking their arrests. Yet somehow, Seal Beach has been “pigeon-holed” because the city jail makes money. Gonshak said the jail was never intended to be a revenue generating venture. “However, because we had the idea in 2007 to offset some of the overhead associated with operating our jail, the City used a pay-to-stay program which charges people to serve their sentence at Seal Beach, rather than the county jail.” This was a good idea, not a money producing one.

According to Gonshak, it takes about five minutes for an officer to bring a prisoner to the city jail. If the City did not have a jail, officers would not be able to get back out on the streets and respond to emergencies as quickly. They could be stuck for up to sometimes six hours watching an intoxicated arrestee or transporting them to county jail, or worse – both.

Sergeant Nicholas said booking someone into the county jail can take a long time. He said an officer could be there for easily three or four hours depending on the time of day.

Respected

“One of the benefits of working here is we are respected by both our community and other law enforcement agencies,” Chief Gonshak said. He said SBPD is respected because the officers are known for treating people both inside and outside of our profession with respect dignity and kindness.

Seal Beach residents love their community, as evidenced by the last two police open house events at headquarters. Citizens who wish to make donations to the SBPD can make them to the Seal Beach Police Officers’ Association. For more information contact Officer Eric Tittle at 562-799-4100 ext. 1627.

“The cops love the community, too,” Sgt. Nicholas said.

Gonshak related that morale is high among Seal Beach officers. “We have a good time, but when it comes down to police work, we handle our business,” Gonshak said stated.

Gonshak said he was appreciative of the way Seal Beach citizens treat Seal Beach officers.

“I can’t tell you what that means to our staff,” Gonshak said.

He thanked the city manager and the City Council for trusting the SBPD to promote from within.

He also noted, “There’s an honor in wearing this uniform.” It is his goal to continue promoting this message from within.