SBPD welcomes Chief Neil TelfordBy Todd R. Brown
For a while on Monday, Fire Station 51 was the safest place to be in San Mateo County.
More than 200 police officers in dark blue uniforms stood with family, friends and various officials for the afternoon swearing-in of Neil Telford as San Bruno's police chief.
Telford, 45, joined the department in 1982 as a reserve officer and was promoted from captain after a months-long search for a new top cop.
"I kind of feel like Jimmy Stewart," Telford said to the crowd, packed into the fire station's three-engine garage. "It's a wonderful life, thank you all for coming."
The 13-year city resident presented his wife, Cindy, with a bouquet of flowers while addressing the boys - and a few girls - in blue, and doled out some consolation cash to his 14-year-old son, Anthony. Then he turned his focus to his predecessor.
"You will be an extremely hard act to follow," Telford said to outgoing chief Lee Violett, 55, who held the post eight years. "You set the bar way too high."
Telford said earlier Monday that one of his priorities is to start a mentoring program for young officers matching them with veterans for some informal training.
That would encourage the beginners to seek out tips they might hesitate to ask for because they think they should already know it all, he said - "somebody that they feel comfortable with and they can call up and say, 'Gee, I feel funny asking that question, so can I ask you?'"
The idea has resonance in a police department with no union contract - city and labor reps agreed to mediation in October - and a reputation for high turnover, which City Manager Connie Jackson called a statewide trend.
"We, like most other departments, are experiencing a significant number of new, younger officers coming on board," she said Monday.
The union says more than half of the city's officers have less than two years' experience, but San Bruno officials say they can't afford the group's demand for parity with other local agencies that offer more compensation to attract veterans.
"It does make it more challenging for a police chief to keep morale positive," Violett said. "There's rough times. Every agency in the county goes through that."
But he said the new chief has a unique advantage, one Violett credited for the smash turnout at the fire station.
"He has the respect and the credibility of the people within the department," Violett said. "Many people here have worked with Neil."
Besides officers from Burlingame, Daly City, Hillsborough, Millbrae, Pacifica and elsewhere, politicians popped in to catch some of the spotlight, including the San Bruno City Council and Supervisors Mark Church and Adrienne Tissier.
"I am delighted the city of San Bruno has a police chief in whom we all have tremendous confidence," Congressman Tom Lantos said before being whisked away in a white sedan. "This is just a time of celebration."
As for Violett, he said he isn't riding off into the sunset yet, although he looks forward to more backcountry patrols at Yosemite, which he's done seasonally for four years.
"We're not going to move to the foothills or anything," he said. "I'm going to decompress and catch up on some life, time with the family."
Telford, a South City native and an avid fly fisherman, attended Skyline College and the College of San Mateo before earning a bachelor's degree in administrative justice from San Francisco State University in the early 1980s.
He delivered duty-free merchandise at the San Francisco International Airport until the San Bruno police offered him a job.
"It just sparked my interest," he said. "I was fortunate enough to get picked up after reserve classes. The rest as they say is history."
Copyright ©2006 San Mateo County Times. Published 12/19/2006.