After more than a year of several leadership transitions at the Sebastopol Police Department (SPD), it appears new police chief Kevin Kilgore has come to stay.

“This is the culmination of my career,” he said. Sworn in on the first day of March, Kilgore said he plans to oversee the department’s growth and collaboration with the Sebastopol community for the next 11 years at least.

Kevin Kilgore

Kevin Kilgore

Some of his aims are ensuring SPD’s transparency “and providing the community the police department that they want, because it’s important that we have a collaborative relationship,” Kilgore said.

“The challenges that we have is that we’re a small department and sometimes recruiting officers to come work in a small agency can be difficult sometimes,” he said. “But I think the best part of this is that it’s a small community that allows me and our department to have a much broader reach and to be able to have more meaningful and thoughtful conversations and relationships with our community.”

The 45-year-old said he didn’t become a police officer thinking he would want to become a police chief, but over time, growth and education, the role became a goal of his “because it gave me the opportunity to be a leader in a different way and also to mentor a department and see growth within the department as well.”

Kilgore last worked as a lieutenant with the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) Police Department in his 24-year law enforcement career spanning county, municipal and university levels. Kilgore said he and his husband plan to move from Palm Springs to the greater Sebastopol area.

While working in university police departments, Kilgore also pursued multiple education programs “on my own time and my own dime,” he said. In 1997, Kilgore became a sheriff’s deputy in Lebanon, Ohio — his home state — and for nine years worked in southwestern Ohio, according to a press release from the city of Sebastopol.

He said he joined the UCLA Police Department in 2006, completing a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice management from Union Institute and University in 2012. Then, Kilgore moved on to work at the UC Santa Barbara Police Department for about eight months at the end of 2012 and in 2013, then-California State Attorney General Kamala Harris presented him with a Valor Award “for saving the life of a person drowning off the coast in 2013,” the press release said.

Kilgore returned to the UCLA Police Department in 2013, he said. Next, he graduated with a Master’s in public administration in organizational leadership from National University in 2016 and in 2018 graduated from the UCLA Anderson School of Management’s executive management program, he said.

Last, he said he graduated from the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command in 2019, with numerous other roles on committees and developing programs. The city press release said Kilgore was both president of the UC Santa Barbara Police Department Police Officers Association and vice president of the UCLA Police Department Police Officers Association.

He also developed and taught a California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)- certified course on implicit bias and procedural justice, the city press release said. Kilgore said he was motivated to become involved in training and leadership by a desire to learn, teach and learn from those he supervised through teaching.

Kilgore had previously withdrawn his candidacy during the city’s recruitment process that ultimately led to Suisun City Police Department Commander Daniel Healy’s selection. Healy later withdrew his candidacy.

Kilgore said he stepped back because he was observing the pandemic’s widespread damage on city budgets and funding for police departments related to businesses closing that could jeopardize job security. 

“At the time, we were in the height of the pandemic and there was a lot of uncertainty that came with that time as well, and so it’s a significant move to leave a place where I was established and I was familiar with,” he said.

Now that Kilgore is with the SPD, he said one of his goals is to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones “so we can have a more collaborative approach to the safety in our community,” hoping to host community forums two to four times a year with various groups.

Local activists and community members have demonstrated in Sebastopol against police brutality and white supremacy as in other cities and towns across Sonoma County and the nation since George Floyd’s killing in May, 2020.

Kilgore said the conversations about reforms and reimagining the role of policing are ones that need to be had and that he looks forward to SPD getting involved in the dialogue.

“I was very much involved in those conversations while working at UCLA when this was happening, serving on several committees in my role as a police lieutenant there and I look forward to serving in that capacity here, having those conversations,” he said.

Kilgore said maintaining an open dialogue is essential, emphasizing listening to understand rather than reply.

“Having a predetermined answer that you’re coming up with while you’re trying to listen to what someone’s saying is not fully listening,” he said. “And so, I think it’s important for everyone — police officer, news reporter, city council, mayor, business owners, residents, visitors — when we have those conversations, it's important to listen to understand before formulating a response to that so you can really absorb what’s being said.”

Kilgore said his approach to public safety and the role of police regarding homelessness and mental health is utilizing resources within the police department or the county for issues that require types of expertise police officers lack, like more extensive mental health training and connecting unhoused communities with resources.

SPD contacts Sonoma County’s Mobile Support Team when the department encounters mental health crises, Kilgore said.

He said many responsibilities have been directed to law enforcement “because law enforcement was traditionally the 24-7 operation that could respond to any type of emergency situation and then became non-emergency situations any time of the day or night.” He added, “So now we’re moving back to that desire to have other expertise help us as police officers to address some of these issues.”

He said the department’s initial approach to any call “is to make sure that we’re responding and treating people with respect, making sure that they know that we’re there as an assistance and a resource for them, not to be the enforcer on things that are non-criminal.”

As for SPD’s relations with the undocumented immigrant community, Kilgore said he encourages undocumented individuals to view the department as a resource.

“We are not looking to actively take any type of enforcement action regarding immigration status. We are here to protect them and to protect the rest of this community, to provide a safe environment for our community, and that includes everyone who is a part of this community, whether they are documented or undocumented,” he said. 

The police chief said he’s gone on rides with some SPD personnel to learn more about the city, introduced himself to business owners and workers, and keeps long hours “because I think that it’s important for our personnel to see me and for our community to see me as well.”

Kilgore said he hopes to hold community events that allow for important conversations when the pandemic restrictions subside.

The city and police department will hold a Zoom meet and greet with Kilgore for the community to hear his plans for the department on April 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the city’s website said.

The event description and Zoom link information is available here:

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