New Police Chief Optimistic about LPD’s FutureBy: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
When Lincoln’s new interim police chief moved into his Seventh Street office Monday, he stood in the middle of the dark room, boxes stacked all around, the fluorescent lighting making his face look green. An item tumbled out of an open box and Chief Dan Ruden bent to pick up a small curtain rod with one striped curtain still attached.
Holding the rod, Ruden surveyed his dark window-less office and grinned, waving the curtain like a flag.
“Guess I won’t be needing this,” Ruden said wryly.
The bleak office is emblematic of the hard times that the city’s police department has weathered during the past six years. Having undergone deep budget cuts that reduced Lincoln’s police force from more than 40 to today’s 19 ½ positions, the department has been challenged to consolidate resources and carry on operations under difficult restraints.
Before the 2007-2008 fiscal crisis, the police chief’s office was located in the old City Hall off of Beermann Plaza.
But when hard times hit, in an effort to conserve funds, the city moved police services back to their earlier location on Seventh Street.
Although Lincoln’s new chief might not have a room with a view, he is optimistic that Lincoln’s star is on the rise.
“I think we’re at a point when the downward trend has turned,” Ruden said. “The department has been through a lot over the past years and has had to make a lot of concessions but people have stepped up and done a good job.”
Part of Ruden’s plan is to listen to his department and the community before assessing what might need to be done.
“I see myself as an advocate for the people who work here. I’m not here to tell anybody what they’ve been doing wrong,” Ruden said. “I don’t see myself coming in here and making immediate broad changes. The men and women who work here know how to operate here in the field in Lincoln. Part of my job is to find out how I can support them.”
The new chief said his two biggest challenges involve staffing and equipment maintenance and replacement.
While the department “has done well on a limited budget,” Ruden said, the current staffing numbers allow no room for contingencies. Shifts are staffed at minimum requirements with no allowance for vacations or employee injuries.
The department also needs to replace patrol cars, Ruden said. With more than 20 square miles to patrol, the department depends on being able to get to residents” in a timely manner.”
Ruden said that he will look into capital-replacement programs to fund department equipment.
“My job is to get us placed high on those replacement program lists,” Ruden said.
During his 30 years in police work, Ruden has seen both sides of the desk. He began as a patrolman in South San Francisco before moving to West Sacramento in 1987 where he served as deputy chief, and finally in 2004, interim chief of police. In Rocklin, he was promoted to deputy chief in 2011.
Ruden’s former boss, Jim Datzman, retired police chief of South San Francisco, said Lincoln is “lucky to have such a dedicated and capable man” in charge.
“Dan is a well-balanced and a quality person. He’s an excellent problem-solver and he’s coming into this job with eyes wide open,” Datzman said. “He understands Lincoln’s history and the city’s current issues and he’s rolling up his sleeves and saying, ‘Ok, now what can we do?’”
Datzman hired the 21-year-old Ruden in 1983.
Ruden has been contracted to work 960 hours per fiscal year in Lincoln.
“His cost will be the same as the outgoing Chief (Paul) Shelgren’s,” said Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep. His salary will be paid out of the General Fund and that funding was included in the city’s budget.
Sheila Van Zant, the city’s senior human resources analyst, said Ruden will be paid $57.47 per hour on an hourly rate, as needed, and with no benefits.
The new chief said he was impressed by the community’s passionate support at the Feb. 12 City Council meeting to keep public safety services local. The council voted to keep public-safety services local instead of contracting out.
“That was a wonderful moment,” Ruden said. “To see how passionately the people of Lincoln supported their police force.”