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Hermosa Beach’s new police chief is eager to get out into ‘tight knit neighborhoods’

With the coronavirus pandemic, everything is day to day, said the new police chief.

Newly hired Hermosa Beach Police Chief Paul LeBaron said this week his biggest priority was to build a great relationship with the community following a lengthy career in Long Beach.

That goal will have to wait a bit, however, as LeBaron began his tenure in the beach city with a virtual swearing in ceremony last week. Just a few people, including his family, were present in the Hermosa Beach City Council Chambers. Normally, he would be out in the community introducing himself — but not with the coronavirus pandemic mandating social distancing.

“I look forward to the time when we can get out,” LeBaron said, “interacting with people the way that we did just a few months ago.”

LeBaron will be introduced to the community again on Thursday, April 30, when the city hosts a virtual town hall on Hermosa Beach’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Mayor Mary Campbell, City Manager Suja Lowenthal and Dr. William Kim, Beach Cities Health District’s chief medical advisor, will also participate.

LeBaron started his law enforcement career at the Long Beach Police Department in 1993 and rose through the ranks to become a commander in 2012.

Since 2018, he has been the commander of the port police division, which oversees the security of Long Beach’s coastline, beaches and marinas, and the management of federal grants dedicated to the security of critical infrastructure, including the Port of Long Beach.

“Long Beach was a fantastic department to work for, the city, the community, just fantastic,” LeBaron said. “I loved it, and I still have a lot of love and respect for Long Beach. But coming to (Hermosa Beach) was something that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

The active small-town beach environment that supports the Hermosa Beach Police Department was a dream, and was a main attraction for him and his family, the new chief said.

“When I was in Long Beach, I had the chance to work in similar responsibilities where you had some very tight-knit neighborhoods down by the beach,” LeBaron said, “and I really enjoyed what they offered and how we could make an impact and build relationships.

“So I know that Hermosa Beach is not Long Beach, and I certainly don’t compare them in that sense,” he added. “But that feeling was one of, ‘This is where I really feel like I’m able to offer the most value with my skill set.’ And so I definitely wanted to find something that would be the equivalent.”

But at the moment, LeBaron and the city are trying to deal with the daily challenges of a pandemic.

“The Police Department (has) a critical seat at the table when you consider the decisions being made up at the city level, at the county level and then at the state and federal level,” LeBaron said. “We have an expertise and we have an ability to maintain public safety. So we need to make sure that the decisions being made have our input, so that they can be done properly.”

LeBaron said the agency’s main focus is always public safety — but he also has concerns for his officers and staff.

“We want to make sure that the community is safe and we understand what our role is,” he said. “But as the chief of police, I have a legitimate concern for the employees, my Police Department, when they go out and they try and do their jobs because they are susceptible to exposures.”

Officers are “free to enforce the law as it’s appropriate,” LeBaron said about the various stay-at-home orders, adding that a lot can be gained by educating people.

LeBaron, though, has more than the coronavirus pandemic to worry about. He comes aboard shortly after the city and the local police union struck a labor deal following months of contentious negotiations.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that there were some challenges,” LeBaron said. “But I’m also aware that those challenges are now in the past and I plan to move forward and work with our employees to do everything we can to do the job we signed up for.”

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