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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 18th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 33

Guadalupe's new public safety director discusses his turbulent past and hopes for the future

By Kasey Bubnash

Despite community concerns and a highly scrutinized past in law enforcement, Guadalupe recently put its faith–and safety–in the hands of Michael Cash. 

The Guadalupe City Council unanimously voted to confirm Cash as its police chief and director of public safety at a meeting on Oct. 9. He was officially sworn in that night and is charged with overseeing both Guadalupe's police and fire departments.

Cash, whose first day on the job was Oct. 10, was chosen by Guadalupe city staff to replace former Police Chief Gary Hoving, who retired in September, leaving the department temporarily to Sgt. Carlos Limon.

A former San Diego cop, emergency response instructor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and former chief of police at Southwestern College–a community college in Chula Vista–Cash was the most qualified of nine candidates. 

"We never really get a lot of applicants," Councilmember Virginia Ponce said. "So I feel we're lucky to have him."

Ponce said it can be difficult for a small town with a limited budget to find qualified applicants willing to take lower than usual salaries for high level administrative positions, especially one that requires both fire and police experience.

Although there were nine applicants for Cash's position, Ponce said several didn't meet the minimum requirements, only three were interviewed by city staff, and only two, including Cash, were interviewed by City Council. 

Ponce said she liked Cash best because of his sincerity and his community-focused, team-player attitude. 

"I just think that if [Guadalupe residents] gave him a chance they'd see that he's going to do a lot for our community," Ponce said. 

But Cash's confirmation process was dogged by controversy stemming from various alleged wrongdoings–some upheld and others unfounded–throughout his law enforcement career. 

In 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cash was briefly suspended from the San Diego Police Department after repeatedly punching a suspect in the face while the suspect was already subdued. Years later, Cash was placed on administrative leave for about two months at Southwestern College after accidentally firing his gun in the campus police locker room, narrowly missing three people who were in the next room, according to a 2014 San Diego  Union-Tribune story. 

Then Cash resigned from his post at Southwestern in 2017, after five years with the department and another lengthy stint on administrative leave, according to the school's student newspaper

Although relatively short, his career at Southwestern College was reportedly tinged with controversy. The school's student paper wrote about on numerous allegations against Cash, including ignoring a report of alleged sexual assault, failing to report accurate campus crime statistics, and misusing campus funds to hire friends. 

In an interview with the Sun on Oct. 15, Cash, explained himself. 

The locker room gunfire was an accident, he said.

Cash said he was in a rush to change into uniform and get to his office that day for an interview with an employee. As per his usual daily routine, Cash said he checked the gun–a new weapon he'd only recently been cleared to use–to make sure it was loaded before putting it in his holster. 

When he slapped the magazine in place, Cash said he accidentally hit the trigger. The gun fired a bullet through a wall and into the next room. 

"It was a mistake," Cash said. 

He chalked the other allegations up to being unfounded and uninvestigated. 

Cash said he was never investigated, or even talked to, regarding allegations of reporting insufficient and inaccurate campus crime statistics, a violation of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires college campuses to keep public crime logs.

Although Southwestern's acting Police Chief Dave Nighswonger said in a story published by the student newspaper that an audit team found 122 mistakes in an annual security report produced by Cash, he called those claims "vague."

The student newspaper also wrote that Cash misused nearly $1 million in campus funds to hire "friends" who had retired from the San Diego Police Department, attributing the claims to an unnamed "campus leadership source." 

Cash blatantly denied that allegation, and said the school's extensive hiring process–which required authorization from Cash's supervisor, the finance department, the college president, the unions, and the school board–would have made it next to impossible for him to hire on a whim. Using that process, Cash said he did, however, hire a retired San Diego Police Department officer to help his staff write reports, which he said they were largely "deficient" at doing. 

When Cash left in 2017 he said it was partially because he felt unwanted, although he left with a year of paid leave and a letter of recommendation. And in his five years there, Cash said he'd served under four different supervisors and three presidents. The constantly changing administration became tiring, he said. 

Moving forward, Cash said he'd like to focus on the future of Guadalupe. 

"I'm on a whole new path," he said. 

Although Oct. 15 was only his third day on the job, Cash said he had some plans for low-cost public safety improvements in Guadalupe. 

He said he's already working on a budget forecast for the departments, and in an effort to get a better feel for the city, Cash said he'd like to form community advisory and youth advisory boards, and a volunteer program for senior citizens. He'd like to improve recreation opportunities for kids in the area and also plans to find out what specific characteristics make Guadalupe safe, so that he can help continue its trend of low crime rates, he said. 

"I'm not here to really change anything," Cash said. "I'm here to enhance." 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.




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