SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION-TV) UPDATE MAY 19, 2022, at 8:45 p.m.-- Bernie Escalante was sworn in Thursday as the 25th Police Chief for Santa Cruz.
A group gathered in front of City Hall to commemorate his swearing-in ceremony. City officials and former Santa Cruz Police Chiefs were in attendance, including the 24th Police Chief, Steve Belcher, who spoke of Escalante's early years in the department.
KION spoke to Chief Escalante about his goals as police chief, and he said:
"To make it a better place and make the community better over my career here and leave it in better hands. I got great staff behind me that support me, and I support them. We work well together."
City Manager Matt Huffaker announced that interim Police Chief Bernie Escalante would take over the role permanently, effective immediately.
"Bernie understands the unique challenges that the City of Santa Cruz and the dedicated officers of the Police Department face every day. I know that Bernie is up to this enormous challenge because he has successfully led the department as our Interim Chief for the past seven months. In addition, Bernie's depth of law enforcement experience, high ethical standards, and knowledge of our community make him an excellent choice to be our next Police Chief," said Huffaker.
Two internal surveys, one for Police Department employees and another offered citywide, with over 400 responses, helped factor into Chief Escalante's appointment.
"I am pleased that Bernie has stepped up to be our next Chief. He has grown up in Santa Cruz and is highly respected in our community and within the Police Department. We heard from our community that integrity, experience and a deep understanding of our City are important characteristics. I strongly believe Bernie is committed and embodies all these values and will prioritize them into practice in his new role," said Mayor Sonja Brunner.
Chief Escalante has served the City of Santa Cruz for 25 years and began his career as a service officer in 1996.
He moved up the ranks serving as a patrol officer, sergeant, property crimes detective, tactical team leader, and lieutenant before becoming the Deputy Chief in 2020.
"I am truly honored to serve the residents of Santa Cruz and lead the great men and women of the Santa Cruz Police Department. They navigate tremendous challenges each and every day with integrity, and they make me so incredibly proud," said Escalante. "It is such a humbling opportunity to lead the Police Department in the City I was born and raised. Now I can give back to the community that has given me so much. I especially want to thank my late mother and father, who raised me with high ethical standards as a young boy, and I know they are so proud."
Chief Escalante grew up in west Santa Cruz and attended Santa Cruz High School. He played football, basketball, and baseball.
He earned a BA in Social Science from San Francisco State and continued to play baseball. Escalante went on to get a Master of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership from the University of San Diego. He completed the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Law Enforcement Command College in 2014.