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When David McGill accepted the job as Sedona’s newest police chief, he knew there would be an adjustment period. And not just because he exchanged sand and surf for red rocks and mountains but mostly because it’s never easy being the new guy.

“It’s been simply outstanding,” he said of the past month. “My head is spinning a bit, though, as I’m still getting to know everyone in the department and within the community. But everyone has been so welcoming. I could not be happier with how things have gone so far.”


Late last week McGill was able to meet with his entire staff at one time and since being hired he’s been meeting one-on-one with everyone in the department for at least an hour.

“I realize change is not always easy,” he said. “I want to get to know them and at the same time let them know what I’m all about. I like to say that I never stop learning and because of that, there will always be a bit of a learning curve.”

McGill said despite having gone from the Los Angeles Police Department to a smaller staff in Newport Beach, Calif., coming to a staff the size of Sedona’s police department will take some adjusting. Day to day it’s not much of an issue, but he wants to build on the partnership with outside agencies, especially when it comes to special events. For example, the recent women’s march was supposed to draw a few hundred people but more than 1,500 turned out.

“I just have to get in the mindset that we only have a limited number of resources and that’s something I have to adapt to,” he said.

Newport Beach has roughly 90,000 residents and thus a much larger police force. But going from a larger department to a smaller one is nothing new to McGill. As noted, for 25 years he was with the LAPD, working a variety of assignments and ranks, including patrol officer, training officer, detective, sergeant and lieutenant.

“I have successfully transitioned from a very large city to a much smaller city already, so I have proven experience in this area,” he said in October after being hired. “So I went from a huge metropolis of well over 3 million people to a tourist-centric city of less than 90,000 and from a police department of nearly 10,000 sworn officers to less than 150.

“I have learned that the smaller the community we serve, the more engaged we are, and the better able we are to fulfill the tenets of true community policing, where the police officers are the community and the community members are the police. And, there are many similarities between Newport Beach and Sedona that will serve me well in my transition. I have learned much in my 30 years in the business that I will apply in this transition and moving forward.”

In regard to staffing, he said he’s yet to determine if the department will have a commander position [the No. 2 officer in the department] or continue with the current format of two lieutenants. McGill hopes to have a retreat of sorts in the near future with his top-ranked officers to get input as to how they would like to see the organizational chart.

The department has three cadets in the police academy and once they graduate, SPD will be up to speed in terms of staff. But keeping them is often another matter. Because of the size of the community and pay that is often lower than that of the county or state, the rate of attrition has been fairly high in recent years. McGill said while little can be done about the pay — or the size or demographics of Sedona — he said there are other ways to boost morale and make it as enjoyable of a work atmosphere as possible.

He said right now there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done that he’d like — including something as simple as hanging pictures in his office. So looking too far into the future may be a bit premature but long-range goals include seeing a new police department built, upgrading the department’s radio communications as well as its records department.

“I realize these needs are no secret,” he said. “I understand they have been talked about for years, especially a new station. There’s high costs involved but at some point you have to stop talking about it and do it.”

City Manager Justin Clifton said McGill has already proven to be an important addition to the department.

“He’s been very active in getting to know the organization and the community,” he said. “He’s already generating numerous ideas about how we can serve our community even better.”

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