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After four years of serving in what originally was designed to be a one-year tour, Dan Watson this past week announced his retirement as Chief of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.
Watson, 62, notified Town Manager Dan Holler of his decision on Monday, June 23.
His departure will be effective Dec. 29, he said, giving the town six months to form a search committee and find a replacement.
Watson, who arrived in Mammoth after more than eight years as chief of the South Pasadena Police Department, said this was the final coda in a career that began in September 1973, with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
“I’m done,” Watson said. “I’ve done this for 41 years, and I’m done. I don’t have any regrets. When I came here, my plan was that this was going to be my last spot.
“It’s time—and you know when it’s time—and it’s a good time to go. I thought about going last year, at the end of 2013, and I really thought about it in 2012, after the council approved [a reduced] budget.
“But I feel the whole town is on the rise, and we’ll add additional officers slowly over the course of time, so it’s a good time for somebody new to come in.
“In the four years I’ve been here, I accomplished what needed to be accomplished, and found a bunch of other changes that needed to be done.”
Watson, who has not exactly made his resignation a state secret in recent weeks, drew praise from Holler, among others.
“From everything I can tell, I think he’s done a very good job,” said Holler, who came on board as a full-time town manager just this year.
“He brings a sense of community to the town,” Holler said, “and within the department he’s done a great job. His officers would say the same thing.”
Steve Searles, Mammoth’s “Bear Whisperer” who in his capacity as a wildlife specialist has seen five police chiefs come and go, said Watson tops the list.
“I don’t have the vocabulary to explain what Dan has brought to the party,” Searles said, “and how well he fit in and got up to speed.
“He’s just a great guy. Not just as a chief of police, but as a friend, I think the world of the guy.”
Holler said the town would initiate a standard search process to find a replacement for Watson. Watson saidhe did not know how much his own recommendations would count during it.
Watson said he brings experience to search procedures, having been a finalist for a spot in Newport Beach and Irwindale before he accepted the job in Mammoth.
It was a marriage of happenstance from the start, he said.
Mammoth was on the hunt for someone to come in for one year to restore department morale and rebuild community trust in the wake of the Randy Schienle regime.
“It was kind of a shell-shocked department. The officers had been under the gun for a long time,” Watson said, “and the perception they all had was that, at one time, they were well-respected in the community and they were considered a good police department with good people.”
Although not particularly interested in a one-year gig and having never even been to Mammoth, Watson said he took the bait and traveled here with his wife, Kathy (“The Chieftess”), and thought it would be a good fit.
One year turned into two, then three, and finally four.
Along the way, Watson worked hard to rebuild the department’s trust in the community, only to watch his force be depleted in the town’s budget crisis in connection with the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition case.
“It was like we were headed for a waterfall,” he said of those dark days.
“The first couple of years we were in the rapids and the water was moving fast and we were going downhill.
“And then we fell off the waterfall.”
The Bourne/Walker case was particularly difficult, he said.
“While this was primarily a Santa Barbara PD case, we assisted in what was an extremely sensitive and difficult investigation.
“Because our officers knew the participants and that once the story broke, it would explode, it made it more challenging.
“Our folks, along with SBPD, did an exceptional job on a very complex and difficult case.”
(Bourne committed suicide following his arrest, adding another layer of complexity to the situation).
In the community, Watson created the Hispanic/Police Liaison gatherings, held twice a year in an effort to help repair decades of mistrust among Mammoth’s Hispanic population toward the police department.
An active member of the Mammoth Rotary Club, Watson also seemed to be everywhere, from Chamber of Commerce mixers and luncheons to Bluesapalooza, big ski races, events, banquets and other such things.
He said it is hard to imagine retirement, but it’s a done deal.
Their home in Mammoth is currently on the market and Dan and Kathy are off to another frontier, whatever that may be.
“Kathy and I both like to travel and we will take advantage of having more time to do so,” he said.
“There are a lot of volunteer opportunities available, and I’m sure I’ll find something.
“Most important are my two children, Tom and Melissa, and their families. Between them I have three granddaughters ages 18 months to 17, and they all live in Southern California.”
As for Mammoth, he said he leaves the town in better shape than it was when he and Kathy arrived.
“This is a fantastic place to live,” he said, “and it’s full of wonderful people. We really do live in paradise, and the town went through a really difficult—a REALLY difficult—period in time.
“But we survived, and it doesn’t take away from the fact that we live in one of the greatest environments in the world, and that the people here continue to get up and function and continue to do a good job.
“It’s a resilient community. We’re going to miss it.”
For more on Dan Watson's retirement/resignation, read the "Our View" editorial by the Mammoth Times