New Atascadero police chief outlines future goals
Chief Daniel Suttles prioritizes staff training, unhoused community resources
– Atascadero Police Chief Daniel B. Suttles, whose first day was Jan. 8, has set forth his priorities and goals for his upcoming time with the department. Chief Suttles has spent over 20 years in law enforcement and most recently served as the Chief of Police for Kern County’s Bear Valley Police Department.
“[One of my goals], and I’m really, really pleased with where we stand with this one, and that is just providing a premier level of service. When I say that I’m already very pleased with this is that the Atascadero Police Department has an incredibly good reputation…I was aware of this reputation and that’s an excellent opportunity for somebody like me stepping in as a new person to an organization that’s already well established. So maintaining this high level of service to the community is really important,” Chief Suttles said.
“I’m joining a team that’s already playing at a premier level and I think that’s an incredibly huge advantage just to step into, and quite honestly, quite humbling in the sense that you’re joining a very well established team,” said Chief Suttles, noting that “as a leader, I find that what I try to do is adapt myself and my leadership style to the needs of the unit that I’m working with and when you have a unit that has all the technical skills, a unit that is already premier, then you don’t need to come in and worry about changing anything to improve those technical skills because they’re already there. You have the advantage and the pleasure and privilege of being able to step in and say, all I need to do as a leader is set direction.”
During the beginning of his new role, Chief Suttles aims to observe the interactions between the police department, the Atascadero city government, and the community, which will then lead him to be able to make changes as needed. Some general priorities Chief Suttles has includes highlighting the overall well-being of the Atascadero Police Department, such as physical and mental health, and its employees and providing a high level of service to the community that will benefit the goals of its constituents.
“I think a lot of [the organizational health] comes through a lot of principles that [the] Atascadero Police Department already has and one of those principles that they really guide themselves by is personal growth,” said Chief Suttles, adding that personal growth extends into professional continued education and personal motivation to become a better member of the family and community.
“I think that as a priority and as a responsibility that I have, and so does my command staff, is that we encourage this type of growth. We encourage this outside of the organization growth [and] we encourage inside organizational growth,” said Chief Suttles, adding “that’s my priority is to make sure they have those resources available. It’s their responsibility to take this encouragement and drive forward with the goal of becoming the best they can…because when you have really well rounded individuals within your organization, not only do they thrive, but the organization thrives.”
Chief Suttles will also prioritize interaction among the community, police department, city council, and city management to create plans that will fulfill goals and ideas brought forth from each entity, saying that “some of those goals are [that] we want the city of Atascadero to be a place that’s warm and inviting, someplace that people want to come and public safety certainly plays a part in that…we also want a vibrant city…people who live here can be proud of where they live.”
As of 2022, there are over 90 unhoused people residing in Atascadero, according to the San Luis Obispo Count and Survey Comprehensive Report. The Atascadero Police Department has partnerships with local programs to create task forces with the goal of assisting those who are unhoused in times of need. Two of these task forces are with the El Camino Homeless Organization and clinicians with the San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health; the Community Action Team (CAT) and Outreach for Underrepresented Residents (OUR) have a police officer and clinician responding to cases together, along with a social worker for OUR.
“One of the things that is a huge advantage is that Atascadero does a really good job of partnering with the outreach programs…Places that do have clinicians partnering with the police departments are the only ones that I have seen that have been successful in providing meaningful services to those who really need them, [such as] those who are suffering from mental illness, those who are unhoused, [and] those who are suffering from drug addiction,” said Chief Suttles, adding that the use of force decreases when the partnership of police officers and clinicians respond to a crisis together due to assistance with either department being available immediately “because we can decide right there and then do they need a clinician or is a police officer needed to step in.”
“This is a huge priority in my mind…to continue to strive towards these very intimate relationships with these outreach programs [such as] Behavioral Health clinicians and the police departments because it is my opinion that it is the only way that we have seen meaningful impact on those who need it the most…there are other entities in the county that have these relationships and I applaud them for that. I just hope to see that this spreads and that all police departments within the county have these relationships,” Chief Suttles said.
“I applaud the State of California and the fact that they have a lot of different grants that provide money so that these programs can happen. I think we could probably do a better job there and the reason why I say that is because a lot of the incentives for these grants to be spent revolve around the goal of removing police officers in the approach toward providing the services…having the goal of taking police out of the equation can be the correct thing to do but not always. So therefore, I think that it’s a better solution to have both the clinician and the police officer embedded together so we can decide at that moment what the specific individual needs,” Chief Suttles said.
Addressing the relationship between the justice system and those facing multiple challenges, such as mental illness, addiction, and being unhoused, is a main priority for Chief Suttles. “If we can take the justice system out of the…personal issues that people have with their health, then we can be more successful in dealing [with] those. As far as our impact that we see within the city that we would like to have something to do about, [it] would be the impact that we can have on those who are suffering from that intersection and how it intersects with the criminal justice system, so I think that we play a part in that,” Chief Suttles said.
There have been around 350 cases of thefts, burglaries and vandalism in Atascadero since September 2023, according to SpotCrime. The same source found that 97% of the property crime committed is theft. Chief Suttles notes the use of technology as vital in approaching how to plan for and handle property crimes.
“One of the things that the property crimes have in common is that they’re predictable…so how are we going to prepare for those predictable events? I think part of that comes in through the way of using technology to our advantage,” said Chief Suttles, using an example of catalytic converter thefts as a primary example. A majority of these thefts are more likely to occur on a dark side street, compared to a brightly lit street downtown, so “if we utilize this information and disseminate that information to our patrol officers, they can take that information and basically put themselves where and when crime is most likely to happen,” said Chief Suttles, adding that this aligns with the department goal of proactivity.
Another feature of the Atascadero Police Department’s approach towards property crimes is with their detective bureau, who are “thinking a little bit on a larger scale and looking at trends and what’s happening out there and trying to predict and also trying to give an idea of following up,” Chief Suttles said. With the catalytic converter example, the detectives would be in charge of looking into similar crimes in the area and possible suspects.
“We bring all that together, the intelligence based policing [and] proactive patrol, utilizing this intelligence that’s given to them. Then the detective bureau [is] looking at everything as an overarching understanding of the trends that are taking place. If all those things are going to come together, you can really put a good dent in preventing and solving those crimes as they happen,” Chief Suttles said.
Since September 2023, over 270 cases of crimes such as shootings and robberies have occurred in Atascadero, according to SpotCrime. Around 89% of the violent crimes reported were assaults, according to the same source. The use of technology and being prepared when addressing violent crimes are two features that Chief Suttles focuses on.
“The ways that we can prepare for and be able to successfully react to violent crimes is [to] be ready for them when they happen. The reason why this is important and how this can help prevent violent crimes is that if we know that we are a police department that has the capability of solving these crimes, then these crimes are less likely to happen in our jurisdiction,” said Chief Suttles, adding that the goal is to deter someone from carrying out a crime in Atascadero if it is known that the police department is efficient and can arrest them. The use of an ALPR system, which stands for Automatic License Plate Reading, assists with notifying the police department if a suspect enters Atascadero in that vehicle.
“When it comes to violent crimes as well, I think a lot of it comes back to how we react to them because they’re unpredictable and we can’t use the intelligence based policing to prevent these types of things for the most part. What we can do is be well prepared to react to these types of things when they happen and I think that’s really one of the biggest reasons why we put so much emphasis on training,” Chief Suttles said.
Chief Suttles notes that the position of Chief of Police was a highly in-demand job due to the positive reputation the department holds in the field.
“One of our goals is to make sure that people understand what it is that we are trying to accomplish. It’s really important to me that the residents understand that most of the goals and most of the direction that we’re talking about with the Atascadero Police Department are derived from what they are telling us that they want, so we’re listening to them…We are a service oriented organization and we are here to provide a service so that’s the matrix by which I measure success is how we provide a service…No one is perfect but we can certainly strive to do and live to our capabilities,” Chief Suttles said.
Chief Suttles was raised in Portland, Oregon, and knew from 16 years old that his dream was to become a police officer. After the Beaverton Police Department told him that he was too young to join, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. He served for eight years in combat regions as a Reconnaissance Marine, saying that “it was an excellent experience for me…quite honestly, it is where I started my drive to understand leadership because when you’re in the Marine Corps and you’re very young, you are told that you are a leader and you will find out very, very quickly that you will either sink or swim when it comes to being a leader, and you better learn how to do it…I developed a lot of foundation for my understanding of leadership.”
At 30 years old, Chief Suttles became a police officer with the Glendale Police Department and worked various roles and departments during that time, including Sergeant of the Patrol Bureau, S.W.A.T. of the Field Services Division, Internal Affairs, and the Financial Crimes Unit. He later became an Adjutant to the Chief of Police, which Chief Suttles said “was a huge learning experience for me…it’s really where I kind of developed my desire to someday try my hand [as Chief of Police] and drove me to make it a goal.” He is married with three sons, two of whom are currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.
For more information on the Atascadero Police Department, visit their website here.