Two weeks after winning the runoff election for San Luis Obispo County Sheriff-Coroner, Sheriff-elect Ian Parkinson said the reality of his new position has started to sink in.
“It’s a great feeling to be done with the election,” Parkinson said. “Now it’s time to move on to what I signed up to do.”
Parkinson won the Nov. 2 election against former Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez with nearly 55 percent of the vote, according to the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s website.
Although Cortez said he was disappointed in the results, he said Parkinson will bring good change.
“I think it’s healthier to have someone from the outside with new ideas,” Cortez said. “I encourage (Parkinson) to take advantage of the resources he has.”
Parkinson will be sworn in on Jan. 3, 2011 but said he is currently helping plan the sheriff’s department budget and attending meetings at the department office.
Parkinson said he has always liked to have responsibility, and in his new position he will be judged based on the change he makes.
“It will be different being in the limelight as a public official,” Parkinson said. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure and long hours, but I’ll be working toward something I really care about.”
Parkinson said his plans as sheriff are centered around making the sheriff’s department more transparent and accessible to the public because he wants people to feel comfortable talking to him.
Becoming the San Luis Obispo County sheriff was never a life dream, Parkinson said, but he was encouraged to run by members of the sheriff’s department and his law enforcement colleagues. When he began to look into what change was needed he decided he would be a good fit for the job.
Parkinson has been involved in law enforcement since 1984 when he joined the Morro Bay Police Department and then became a part of the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) in 1988. Once in the SLOPD, he received the City of San Luis Obispo Employee of the Year award in 2004. He became police captain in 2005 and has been recognized several times for his law enforcement record.
Parkinson will succeed Sheriff-Coroner Patrick Hedges who has held the position for more than 10 years, according to the Sheriff’s Department website.
Parkinson’s endorsements included several members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, according to his campaign website. Board Chairman Frank Mecham was among those supporters and he said he didn’t know Parkinson until after he announced his candidacy.
“When I met with him it was very clear to me that he was head and shoulders above everyone else,” Mecham said. “Other police chiefs I spoke with had nothing but compliments about him.”
Mecham also said that he has seen Parkinson in action and thinks he can bring calm to an edgy situation.
Parkinson said going from being the San Luis Obispo police captain to the county sheriff will require a different approach, since policing can differ from town to town.
“It’s really about learning and absorbing all the information that you can,” Parkinson said. “I think I have an advantage in that I’ve been here for 26 years and I’ve seen how it’s done both ways, in a small town and a large town.”
One area Parkinson plans to reform is the way the sheriff’s department deals with drug and alcohol problems in San Luis Obispo County, because he said dealing with these problems requires more than just law enforcement.
“There needs to be a stronger partnership between law enforcement and schools and county drug and alcohol services,” Parkinson said.
Many of Parkinson’s colleagues at the San Luis Obispo Police Department gave him their support. Former police captain Daniel Blanke said Parkinson was a great partner in sharing responsibility. Parkinson and Blanke were police captains together for four years before Blanke retired in 2009.
“He’s an idea man — he loves challenges,” Blanke said. “He will love dealing with whatever issues that people feel need attention.”
Parkinson received endorsements from other law enforcement officers in the county as well. Pismo Beach Police Chief Jeff Norton said he has known Parkinson for more than 26 years and said Parkinson is the right man for the job at the right time.
“He has a very collaborative management style and I think that will work well for him,” Norton said. “I think he’s going to hit the ground running and re-energize the department.”
Parkinson said he’s not nervous about his new position — he’s excited to begin doing what he set out to do from the start.
“My only anxiety is that the first 60 to 90 days are important; it’s the best time for change, but it has to be thought out,” Parkinson said.
San Luis Obispo county residents can expect to see change for the positive during his term as sheriff, Parkinson said.
“They should expect that I’ll be someone who’s going to be very open with them,” Parkinson said. “They’ll be aware of every step I take, whether it leads to big or small change.”