Morgan Hill’s Interim Police Chief Shane Palsgrove was promoted from his captain’s post in early April, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing stay-at-home orders.
Palsgrove became the city’s top cop after spending 19 years at Morgan Hill Police Department, where he began his full-time law enforcement career in 2001. Before joining the force, Palsgrove attended San Jose State University on a full soccer scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice.
MHPD sponsored Palsgrove’s police academy education at Gavilan College, where he graduated “Top All Around Cadet.” He later returned to SJSU and completed his master’s degree in Justice Studies and California POST Command College.
Palsgrove and his wife have “two incredible boys who enjoy Jujitsu and gymnastics,” Palsgrove said. “Our lives revolve around our family, work, sports and school. We try to get out and experience new things when time permits; otherwise, we just enjoy watching our two boys grow into loving and respectful human beings.”
Palsgrove’s interim chief assignment is a six-month post, after which the city manager will decide whether to appoint Palsgrove or another candidate as permanent police chief. The city is not currently searching for a permanent chief of police, City Manager Christina Turner said.
Palsgrove replaces former Police Chief David Swing, who accepted a position in March as chief of the Pleasanton Police Department.
Palsgrove answered a few questions from the Times about his career and the future of public safety in the community.
What have you enjoyed most about your service to the City of Morgan Hill?
It’s all about the people. I became a police officer because of people. I enjoy the family atmosphere both within the police department and out in the community. Having the police and community support is invigorating, constantly inspiring me to do better and wanting to meet and exceed people’s expectations. I also enjoy the satisfaction and fulfillment of being a part of bringing justice to victims—it is priceless.
This must be a strange time to take on a new leadership role such as Chief of Police. What aspects of your training, experience and expertise have prepared you for police work during a pandemic or prolonged shelter-in-place order?
I would not be where I am at without the department’s support and the support of many others in the city and community. One of the things that has prepared me for providing safety during a pandemic is my graduate work in Justice Studies. Understanding the principles of community policing and the inequitable disparities that exist in communities must be taken into consideration when applying the law. Police officers are often the only conduit to government that some will ever encounter. Ensuring we have a well-educated team connected with the broader network of resources, to include community and faith-based organizations, is necessary for us to be part of the solution. A pandemic like this highlights these disparities, making it essential that we are able to identify and connect those in need to the resources they need. Our team has come together to support one another and found ways to lift the spirits of others in our community like helping with food distributions, connecting homeless persons to housing resources and making birthday visits. I could not be prouder of the work our dispatchers, officers, and records and support staff are doing during this time. They are taking the necessary safety precautions to protect each other and our community while still being proactive: making numerous arrests for auto thefts, commercial burglaries, vandalism, pedophiles, and nearing the arrest of suspects in a drive by shooting—all during COVID19.
Anything you would like to get across to the public on how to stay safe during the current crisis and shelter-in-place orders?
Our hearts are with those who are out of work and struggling during this time. We appreciate everyone’s effort in following the Santa Clara County Health Department Orders. We need to continue to stay home, wear masks and maintain social distancing when out for essential business, and wash our hands. Continue to take care of yourself through exercising, meditating, walking, or virtually connecting with friends, and follow the County Order updates so together we can get through this. It is not easy to have to enforce the closure of non-essential businesses and social distancing because we realize the impact it has on the lives of others—so the community’s cooperation is appreciated.
We also understand if we do not enforce these orders, more lives will be lost and the shelter in place will last even longer. The city has provided many resources on our website, from essentials like food distribution locations to business assistance resources, at morganhill.ca.gov/covid19
Do you have any immediate or long-term ideas for any new programs, personnel or enforcement strategies for MHPD in your interim assignment? What are the most immediate needs for resources at MHPD?
My immediate strategy for MHPD is to listen, ask, and learn. I am approaching the position as Apple does when making a new iPhone—they go to the users. I am going to the men and women who are doing the job, engaging with them, and renewing my commitment in supporting their amazing work. I know that if they are supported, our work in the community will be a force multiplier because each teammate will find their own innovative ways to bring value to our community. Once this is done, I will submerge myself in the community and do the same and learn new ways to expand our reach to others.
Do you feel MHPD has been successful at engaging the community, and do you see any opportunities to improve the department’s efforts at community engagement?
From my perspective, the Morgan Hill Police Department has not only been successful in our engagement within the community, but we have become one with the community. I see us as united, a single community that actively works to listen, respect and support each other. We are always growing our relationships informally through living in Morgan Hill, raising our children here, coaching and attending school and other community events. Formally, we are engaging the community in several different ways through our volunteer in policing program, citizen police academy, Chaplaincy program, and many other programs. We make decisions in partnership with the community and enjoy a proactive culture in keeping our City safe. With that said, relationships need continuous attention and there will always be new ways to engage with the community and improve our partnership in public safety.
Any unusual or unexpected public safety trends MHPD has seen since the coronavirus shelter-at-home order started March 17?
Unusual trends: During the first two weeks of the shelter in place order, we saw a dramatic drop in traffic collisions, calls for service and crime reports. However, in the following weeks, we have seen an uptick in incidents of graffiti, family disturbance calls and stolen vehicles. To date, we have not experienced an increase in domestic violence calls. Two violent crimes occurred that will not result in an increase to our yearly crime rate but required additional police resources that we had pulled back during COVID-19 in order to minimize officer exposure. To investigate these crimes, we had to redeploy these officers.
Unexpected trends: Two unexpected trends have impacted our police department during COVID-19: 1) zero- bail schedule; and 2) release of inmates from county jails. Earlier in April, the California State Legislature voted to approve an emergency order to temporarily end cash bail for most misdemeanor and lower-level felonies. In addition, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in county jails, the County of Santa Clara released hundreds of inmates back into the community. As a result of both these measures, we are arresting criminals two and three times for felony crimes and they are being released back to the community and then re-committing the same crime(s) for which they were arrested. This has placed an unanticipated strain on our public safety resources.
Successes during COVID-19: Our officers have been doing a phenomenal job in being proactive and making several significant arrests to include but not limited to:
- Arrested a prolific car thief three times for vehicle theft. Arrest made after a spike strip deployed, pursuit initiated and foot chase
- Arrested a commercial burglar stealing lotto tickets in seven different cities and multiple stores in some cities (four in Morgan Hill). Arrest made after a pursuit and foot chase
- Arrested commercial burglar stealing from two dental offices and two hair salons
- Arrested two suspects from stealing from a downtown restaurant
- Arrested two burglars breaking into cars downtown after a foot pursuit
- A rash of mail theft is anticipated due to the stimulus checks being sent out. Officers identified a possible suspect who led them on a pursuit and are following up with the investigation
- We are also aware of the chronic illegal fireworks being set off in the city and are investigating this case.