The San Diego Police Department is losing a key member of its top brass to retirement.
After 28 years on the force, Assistant Chief Boyd Long is leaving for a job in private security.
He was considered a serious potential candidate for chief of police, if Bill Lansdowne's job were to come open.
Long says an offer that he didn't solicit presented itself before that happened -- and that it was an opportunity he couldn't turn down.
"I can honestly say I never had my sights set on being the chief of police,” told NBC 7 in an interview Wednesday in his 7th-floor office at police headquarters downtown. “If the opportunity had come, I would have considered it. However , I never really set my sights. I have always, in the organization, felt wherever I'm at is where I need to put 100 percent of my effort."
But that ends Friday, when Long exits the police department to become vice president of security, transportation and parking at Valley View Casino & Hotel, foreclosing any bid to become San Diego's top cop.
He’ll be supervising about 225 employees at the Valley View complex in North County, roughly a quarter of the workforce there.
Long’s SDPD career wound up being both high-profile, and spread across a wide variety of divisions and assignments that lent themselves to news coverage and controversy.
When Civic Center Plaza was overrun with anti-Wall Street protesters from “Occupy San Diego” for weeks on end in 2011, Long handled police response operations, balancing civil rights with the need to maintain order and evict ‘occupiers’ on grounds of illegal lodging.
"He was very diplomatic; he came at it from a humanitarian point of view,” says Marti Emerald, chairwoman of the City Council’s Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee. “He really did care about people's right to free speech and assembly. But he knew when to draw the line."
Advocates for the homeless say Long was always in their corner, and in their midst.
"He understood the challenges that we face as providers,” says Bob McElroy, founder and CEO of the Alpha Project for the Homeless, which operates the city’s winter shelter. “He knew the politics. He knew the NIMBYs. He knew the funding … he actually cares about the folks down here. He comes down here by himself, without an entourage."
“We wish him the best of luck,” said Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn., calling Long “a dedicated leader”.
Long sees a parallel between what he's been doing for nearly three decades, and the job he'll start next week – customer service.
"Whether you're putting a person in jail, you're doing a service for somebody else that may be a victim of crime,” Long said “Or whether you're responding to somebody when there's a missing child. It's about customer service.”
He's leaving with deep concerns about the department's ability to recruit and retain officers.
City budget cuts and pay freezes have sent many public safety employees packing for other, better-paying law enforcement agencies, or into the private sector and retirement.
“We have to be competitive in this market of policing,” Long said, insistently tapping his desk with a forefinger. “If we don’t remain competitive, we’re not going to wind up with the candidates that our community members want, that our businesses owners want, and that our police department needs to go out and perform this job every day.”