By Eric Heinz
Update, 10:15 a.m., March 19
The city of San Clemente announced on Monday, March 18, that it has selected a new chief of Police Services. Lt. Edward Manhart was appointed March 15 to the city’s top law enforcement position.
According to the city’s press release, Manhart spent seven years in San Clemente as an OCSD deputy between 2004 to 2011.
“During this time, Lieutenant Manhart also worked as a motor deputy coordinating complex traffic plans and supporting the City during special events,” the press release stated. “Lieutenant Manhart served as a Field Training Officer, assisting patrol trainees during their transition from custody to operations.”
Since joining OCSD in 1998, Manhart has served on the department’s major accident reconstruction team (MART), central jail management, budgeting operations, led administrative departments and internal affairs.
“I am excited to have been given this incredible opportunity to serve the City of San Clemente as its new Chief of Police City of San Clemente Services. The City has some tough challenges ahead, but I am confident that by utilizing a community-based policing approach and promoting a strong police and community partnership, we will be able to deliver the level of service this community deserves and help promote a better overall quality of life,” Manhart was quoted saying in the press release.
City Manager James Makshanoff said in the release that he was certain of his decision to appoint Manhart.
“With his extensive law enforcement background and ties to San Clemente, our residents are getting a well-trained and dedicated chief with a collaborative leadership style and a high-level of commitment to the community,” Makshanoff said in the release.
Manhart is expected to attend the next city council meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, March 19, at the City Council Chambers, 100 Avenida Presidio.
Coming home for Lt. Mike Peters, San Clemente’s chief of police through Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), was a dream job, one that he probably wouldn’t have left if he hadn’t recently been promoted to captain.
He was gleamingly visible throughout the Spanish Village by the Sea from the start of his appointment, appearing in photographs with children at his old haunts, the OCSD Facebook page has him standing with a giant San Clemente High School flag near a patrol car, participated in events like the Fiesta Music Festival salsa competition and he gave monthly updates to the city council.
Peters began his position as chief in May 2017. He’s been promoted to captain and will oversee the North Operations command, which includes the cities contracted with OCSD as well as the courthouses and unincorporated areas.
Though he enjoyed the stint, he said his time here wasn’t always smooth sailing.
It was, “Very roller-coaster, if I may, but I knew that coming in,” Peters said, adding he had spoken with Capt. Dave Moody, the prior chief in San Clemente. Moody left just as a public safety task force was getting underway, but hadn’t materialized into the community outreach arm it was intended to be.
“My roots are very well established in this community; the pillars in the community had a direct link to me and could help guide me through some pretty (deep) waters at times,” Peters said. “I think for a new chief to come in with no community ties is a little more difficult. My ties were already established, but (a new chief) will have to make those ties.”
Peters said he couldn’t think of any of the lieutenants currently on the sheriff’s list who has the same knowledge of and time spent in San Clemente that he does. Peters went to grade, middle and high school in the city and spent much of his time at the local Boys & Girls club as a kid.
“Having run around this station as a child, having family and this atmosphere, because we are the farthest station south, kind of on an island, we depend on each other,” Peters said. “It was bumpy but such a good position, and the promotion was bittersweet because I love my job, I love my community—all of it. All of the strange little nuances, oddities, there’s so many people who truly care and love this place and they don’t all love it the same way. Sometimes those aspects clash and cause a rift, so trying to mediate those things is interesting.”
San Clemente isn’t even the most populated South OC city but year after year consistently makes the most emergency calls among OCSD-contracted cities, about 30,000, according to stats provided by the department.
“This is a busy city. The deputies who come here have to recognize they’ll be busy,” Peters said. “We have a large amount of part 1 calls (most urgent matters). The deputies need to be out in the field because they’re finding amazing things.”
The social media activity throughout the city is something Peters has tried to in one way refine and in another attempt flood control. He noted at various San Clemente City Council meetings that if people only report crimes on Facebook—or exacerbate crimes—it makes it more difficult for law enforcement to decipher what’s happening.
“It’s frightening, the lack of vetted material, that gets out there,” Peters said. “I don’t like to engage in Facebook. I like to be able to see it, but I don’t like to engage. What I would suggest to the new chief is to reach out to the administrators of all those sites. I reach out to them in the backdoor.”
That takes time to address, and with homeless issues taking up most of the feeds, sometimes there is no connection people make between what’s happening and what’s being reported on the social media platforms. One such instance was a picture posted of people climbing a ladder into a home that was speculated to be a break-in—turns out, they were just roofers working on the home.
Homelessness is a growing issue for San Clemente residents, as more people continue to take unofficial residency at places such as the lawn of the Ole Hanson Beach Club and nearby train station.
Capt. Jim England is the current South Operations commander who is retiring after 34 years with the department, but Capt. Jeff Puckett will take over the South Patrol, which includes San Clemente.
The process to select a new chief begins with a fairly indiscriminate list of lieutenants who have demonstrated an ability to lead such a position. OCSD keeps the list for a year, and the sheriff and his command make a decision on who they pick. The nominees are then interviewed by the city’s manager
“They typically choose where their openings are,” Peters said.
Peters’ last day is Friday, March 15, but before he leaves he said he intends to give some advice to the new nominees, one of whom will become the city’s next chief.
“One of the things that I’ve said to both candidates is that they need to make sure they get out into the community,” he said. “Make sure they go to events, make sure they participate in engagement, even if it’s a small block party. The core of San Clemente still has that small-town feel. It’s not a small town anymore, but a lot of people hang on to that culture. I’ve been in the various communities like North Beach or Talega…they need to feel like they have access, at least that they feel like their voices are being heard.”
Peters said the thicker the skin of the new chief when it comes to criticisms from the community, the better.
“Whoever sits in this position needs to understand that they’re a figurehead and they need to support (all citywide organizations),” Peters said. “The system doesn’t work with all the cogs working together…the charitable organizations, the religious organizations.”
Editor’s note: An abridged version of this article was published in the March 14-20 edition of the San Clemente Times.