By the end of the year, San Diego will have lost at least three of its most visible police leaders – and perhaps more.

Eureka, Calif. leaders announced this week that well-known San Diego police Capt. Andy Mills will be the city’s new top cop. He’ll become chief in the northern California city in early November.

Mills’ move follows the retirements of popular Assistant Chiefs Boyd Long and Lawrence McKinney.

Many more high-level retirements are likely to follow, said Jeff Jordon, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association.

“There’s going to be massive turnover in the department soon,”  he said.

An assistant police chief confirmed that 27 police leaders, including 10 high-level supervisors, must retire in the fiscal year that started in July. Another 33 officers also must leave this year.

“This is a lot of knowledge that is leaving,” Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman said.

The city’s pension system said Thursday the departing high-level officers will include Assistant Chief Cesar Solis and Capt. Tony McElroy, who leads the department’s southeastern division. Both longtime cops are part of a program that requires them to retire by mid-2014.

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said last month he doesn’t plan to leave the department any time soon but he’s now eligible to collect a full pension whenever he does. Lansdowne, 69, has said he’ll give the city six months’ notice when he decides to move on.

Here’s a look at what the three police leaders who have or will soon move on, and what the city lost with their departures.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Boyd Long, who left Jan. 25

Last SDPD gig: Assistant chief

Why he left: New job as a vice president at Valley View Casino & Hotel

What he championed: Long’s 28-year career included high-profile stints handling Occupy San Diego protests and other high-profile issues but he’s most known for his approach to homelessness.

For years, Long was the department’s go-to contact for homelessness advocates and they respected his contributions.

“He actually cares about the folks down here, Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy told NBC 7 as Long prepared to leave the department. “He comes down here by himself, without an entourage.”

The loss: Long developed a reputation as a compassionate and fair police leader who understood the challenges associated with serving and policing the city’s homeless population. A police sergeant is now the public face of the city’s homeless outreach. Any high-level police official who hopes to take on the issue will face a sharp learning curve.

Photo by Megan Burks
Photo by Megan Burks

Lawrence McKinney, left Aug. 1

Last SDPD gig: Assistant chief

Why he left: Retired

What he championed: McKinney was known for his willingness to reach out to residents.

In the three years he led the department’s Mid-City Division, he helped officers better understand the diverse communities they served and attended countless community meetings.

And he emphasized that no community concern was too small. He even pushed to allow a youth leadership program to meet at the City Heights police station.

The loss: When McKinney retired, Lansdowne told U-T San Diego that the 30-year officer “epitomizes what we look for in the business” and noted that he was a strong advocate for both fellow officers and the communities he served.

McKinney’s openness about his own experience as a young black man and the racial tensions that often come along with police work were also crucial teaching tools for fellow cops.

Photo courtesy San Diego Police Department
Photo courtesy San Diego Police Department

Andy Mills, leaving this fall

Last SDPD gig: Captain leading the city’s Western Division

Why he’s leaving: New job as chief in Eureka, Calif.

What he championed: Mills is among the department’s most outspoken advocates for community policing.

Mills made headlines in April when he took a walking tour of Ocean Beach to better understand residents’ concerns about transients and drug use.

That tactic isn’t new to Mills, who has won numerous awards for his neighborhood policing projects in 30 years as an officer.

The loss: Mills consistently reminds officers who report to him that he isn’t really their boss. They report to the community, said Jordon, who once worked under Mills.

That message is imperative as the city loses veteran officers and hires new ones who must build relationships with the residents they serve.

Correction: An earlier version of this post contained a photo that misidentified San Diego Police Sgt. Rick Schnell.

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Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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