Santa Cruz police chief hired as new chief in Palm Springs

Andrew Mills, the chief of police of Santa Cruz, a city of 63,000 residents on the central California coast, will be the next leader of the Palm Springs Police Department, it was announced Tuesday.

Mills has led the Santa Cruz Police Department since 2017. Prior to Santa Cruz, he served four years as chief of police in Eureka. He began his career in 1983 as a patrol officer with the San Diego Police Department and worked his way up to commanding officer of gang investigations and criminal intelligence/counter-terrorism, rising to the rank of police captain and commanding officer in 2011, overseeing the San Diego Police Department’s Western and Eastern divisions.

Mills, 64, said Palm Springs’ proximity to San Diego played a prominent role in his decision to pursue the opening here. He and his wife Cathy have been married for 40 years. They have three daughters — Steffanie Montes, Andrea Stewart and Rachel Mills — and four grandchildren in the San Diego area.

“I spent most of my career in San Diego,” he said by phone. “To be able to work in another world-class city with a phenomenal police department, but yet be close enough to pop down to watch a play my grandkids are in or go to one of their ballgames on a Saturday morning is truly a dream come true.”

Mills will begin his new position in Palm Springs in early November. He will replace Acting Police Chief Melissa Desmarais, who chose not to seek the position. She replaced Bryan Reyes, who retired in August after 27 years of service to the city.

“The nice thing is that it’s an incredible team already. I don’t need to go in and make massive amounts of changes”

— Incoming Palm Springs Police Chief Andrew Mills

“My first order of business is to get in and get to know the staff at the Palm Springs Police Department — both the civilian staff and the uniformed officers,’ Mills said. “It’s important to get to understand what’s important to them and how I can lead effectively.

“The nice thing is that it’s an incredible team already. I don’t need to go in and make massive amounts of changes. I just need to go in and make sure they are taken care of, and they are supported and that we lead with a mission that is something they agree with and understand.”

Mills will have a starting salary of $243,756 in Palm Springs, a city spokesperson said. While in Santa Cruz, Mills’ annual salary was $223,827 before taxes, said Santa Cruz city spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith.

During his tenure in Santa Cruz, Mills dealt with calls for police reform in 2020, resulting in changes to hiring and transparency practices within the Santa Cruz Police Department. He also is no stranger to the homelessness crisis. Similar to issues faced by police in Palm Springs, Santa Cruz officers are often asked by residents to remove homeless encampments, but they lack legal authority.

The selection process in Palm Springs started with a review of resumes, a screening of more than 50 applicants, and two surveys that queried residents and Police Department employees about attributes they were looking for in the next chief of police. The process concluded with four separate panels conducted by city staff and an outside company. Those panels were comprised of several chiefs of police, sworn and unsworn members of the Palm Springs Police Department, an executive department head panel, and a panel consisting of members of the community selected by a City Councilmember in each of the city’s five districts.

“I am very excited to see Chief Mills join our team,” City Manager Justin Clifton said in a written statement at the time of the announcement. “We have had an extensive process where the candidates were tested on their values, knowledge, skills, and abilities with a broad cross-section of stakeholders serving as evaluators.

“Chief Mills was clearly the top performer in the process. I think he will be able to integrate with our team and community seamlessly. He brings a wealth of experience and leadership that, with help from the rest of our team, can take us to the next level.”

Mills is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, the FBI National Academy, and California P.O.S.T Management School. He is a member of the Major Cities Chiefs Intelligence Commanders Group and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the Board of State and Community Corrections.

In addition, Mills serves as executive chair of the California Violence Prevention Grant Program and on the board of the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

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