Chief Steven McLean
Steven McLean, an officer who worked his way up through the ranks of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after overcoming personal challenges, has been appointed Santa Paula’s 14th Chief of Police.
McLean, 57, a native of Canyon Country and resident of Stevenson Ranch, was among the 25 candidates who submitted applications last September to replace Police Chief Stephen MacKinnon.
A panel of Ventura County law enforcers initially studied the resumes and recommended viable candidates to the verbal interview panel. McLean was one of two candidates then interviewed by a panel of citizens and a police union representative.
City Manager Jaime Fontes appointed McLean last week, noting in a written statement, “Mr. McLean is clearly the most qualified candidate of what was an excellent candidate pool. He has the passion and dedication Santa Paula deserves and he will take law enforcement in this city to the next level.”
McLean started July 1. His annual pay is $129,188, the top of the five-step salary tier for police chief.
McLean retired in February 2012 after 32 years of diverse public safety experience with the LASD. “I worked my way up through the ranks,” said McLean, who spent time as a deputy, sergeant and lieutenant patrolling the streets of East Los Angeles, was a longtime member of the SWAT Team, a sergeant charged with overseeing three deputy training academies and was first executive assistant to Sheriff Lee Baca and later executive assistant to Undersheriff (and Gardena Mayor) Paul Tanaka.
In all McLean spent over 18 years as a supervisor and manager, including a stint as the second in command and later Captain/Unit Commander for the City of Altadena LASD Station, where he was responsible for providing public safety services to approximately 47,000 residents. At Altadena McLean oversaw 70 sworn and professional personnel and an annual budget of $10 million dollars. In his two years as Unit Commander in Altadena, McLean was able to reduce property crimes by 25 percent and violent crimes by 17 percent.
“I always wanted to be a police chief of a small city,” said McLean. “I felt with my experience” he has much to offer the department and the community. “I’m a high-energy police chief,” McLean noted, “and I’m a police chief seven days a week.”
Not bad for a kid who flunked first grade and in high school threatened to quit if a counselor did not have him transferred to special education classes. McLean’s parents were immigrants from Costa Rica and he said he grew up in a loving home, but one nevertheless where alcohol was a problem for his father. McLean, who remembers visiting Santa Paula as a boy with family members picking fruit, said there was no interest in education in the household.
An admitted rebellious student, discriminated against by other students due to his ethnic heritage, McLean had no real interest in studies and threatened to quit high school if he wasn’t placed in special education classes, but he did love cars. One day his prank of parking his low rider to block school bus access got McLean in a lot of trouble, including with LASD Sheriff Deputy Arthur Pelino, who “gave me hell… and took an interest in me.”
McLean said the deputy sheriff – who later died in the line of duty – inspired him, and Pelino became a role model. McLean joined the LASD Explorer program and, although he graduated near the bottom of his high school class, he was determined to better himself.
McLean, who is fluent in Spanish, obtained an Associates of Science in Administration of Justice, Bachelor of Science Degree in Occupational Studies from California State University Long Beach, a Master of Science Degree in Homeland Security from Tiffin University, and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
His experiences as a youth shaped McLean’s philosophy as a police officer: “Although I came on at a time when it was ‘us against them’ mentality and there was no community policing,” McLean always believed that effective policing is a community effort. “It’s a partnership between everybody… if you live here in Santa Paula you’re a stakeholder and if you don’t want to get involved,” stand back.
McLean said, “The key to being an effective chief here is the ability to collaborate with the community, all the community” he looks forward to being involved in.
McLean was admired in Altadena for his attendance at meetings of all sizes, social events, and in general for his easy accessibility to the public as well as his staff. That included regular meetings over a cup of coffee with community members: “I’ll start that here real soon, pick an establishment and announce it. I pay for the coffee… it’s a very informal atmosphere” that promotes communication.
“As chief have you have to be out in the community seven days a week… same with the troops, I have to earn their respect, it won’t be automatic.”
With the community, “The key is to be everywhere all the time,” and he said the “wheels will still be spinning” in his head regarding Santa Paula while he’s away from the city.
But he also expects residents to do their part: “A thriving Neighborhood Watch is key” to success, neighbors taking an active part in safety by being organized, observant and ready to report any suspicious person or activity having enormous value to crime fighting and prevention.
Prevention is an important tool especially for youth. “I was an at-risk kid, and sometimes that just what kids want, one person to take an interest; a mentor can be the difference” between a life of crime or personal success.
Faith, he added, “is very important to me and I count my blessings… that’s why I feel for people when they make mistakes, I believe in second chances.”
Noted McLean, “My own childhood is why I gravitate to the underdog… I was 317th out of the 343 kids in my class when I graduated with a 1.8 GPA. I became a captain in the largest police agency, have a masters degree and became a police chief.”
He plans to offer a $500 scholarship to a graduating student in a pop classroom competition: “The winner will write the best five-page essay without knowing in advance what the topic is,” although McLean said it would center on a subject related to law enforcement.
McLean, who collects and restores old cars, was a recent visitor to Cruise Nite: “I loved it, I just sold some cars,” but he still has a 1949 Willy, a 1954 Metropolitan Nash – “It’s pink” – and a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, “a project car.”
Cruise Nite isn’t the only reason he already enjoys Santa Paula: “It reminds me of Altadena, which still has growers, wonderful architecture, arts… I brought my wife and kids here,” daughters ages 12 and 15, “and we went to all the museums, walked Main Street and did some shopping. My wife said ‘It’s perfect for you,” and my kids were saying “Daddy, Daddy you should work here….’ I don’t have any days off… I’ll be either here or home spending quality time with the kids and my wife,” a woman so supportive that McLean said when she saw he was concerned with the officers that were working Thanksgiving she urged him to join them at the Altadena station for dinner.
McLean’s mother has lived with him since his father passed 20 years ago.
Other interests? “I’m a sports guy, grew up playing sports… Dad was a baseball coach for more than 30 years; all of us,” McLean’s five siblings, “were on his team. I’m a Lakers fan, a Viking fan have been since day one.”
McLean succeeds Sgt. Ishmael Cordero, who served as interim chief since April 2012.
This story originally appeared in the Santa Paula Times. Used by permission of the writer, a freelance journalist.