San Diego

Retiring Chief Shelley Zimmerman Bids Adieu to San Diego Police Department

Zimmerman has overseen the country's eight largest police department since March 4, 2014

The city of San Diego's first-ever female police chief said goodbye to the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) with a ceremony at headquarters Thursday.

Former Chief Shelley Zimmerman ended her career with SDPD when she stepped through the doors of police headquarters Thursday, stopping to shake the hands of her fellow officers and others who lined the pavement to bid farewell to the woman who led the department for the last four years.

Zimmerman retired from her position as chief due to requirements laid out by the city pension and retirement program known as "DROP" that only allowed her to stay at the head of the department for four years.

"I'm sad that I am leaving," Zimmerman said in a sit-down interview with NBC 7 reflecting on her career. "I spent really my entire adult life here, 35 years, and let's face it ... we have grown up together."

The chief had overseen the country's eighth largest police department since March 4, 2014, when she replaced retiring Chief William Lansdowne. She was appointed as Kevin Faulconer took office as mayor of San Diego.

Her career with the department has spanned more than 35 years. During that time she has served in the Narcotics, Internal Affairs, Crime Analysis and Multi-Cultural Community Relations offices. 

Zimmerman's duties on various patrol commands included training incoming officers, working with juveniles and volunteering within the community. She has extensive investigative experience, according to her biography.  

A stronghold of her career has been to strengthen trust between San Diegans and the police officers who serve their communities.

"Community trust is such a precious, yet, perishable commodity that has to be nurtured at every opportunity," Zimmerman said. "It's so important for our officers to get out of their cars and have actual conversations with our community."

She credits body cameras for strengthening that trust.  

"With a body camera showing that, in most cases, the officer, the vast majority of cases, did the right thing that has really ... protected our officers against false complaints but also, when you talk about the trust with our community, built on that trust," Zimmerman told NBC 7.

Under her leadership, SDPD has ensured the safety at some of the city's most high-profile events, including the yearly San Diego Comic-Con, the Super Bowl and the 2016 Republican National Convention, among others. 

Taking her place at the head of the department will be Chief David Nisleit, a former assistant chief and head of the department's gang unit, SWAT and northern, western and mid-city divisions.

Nisleit has worked with Chief Zimmerman in the planning and operational safety at San Diego's largest events. 

He has said his priorities as chief will include restoring SDPD staffing levels back to "full strength" and keeping crime rates low in San Diego's communities, an issue that has weighed on Zimmerman's four-year career as chief as well.  

In August 2017, Cheif Zimmerman strongly encouraged the San Diego City Council to take action on staffing shortfalls within the department. Officers were being lost to other law enforcement agencies that offered more competitive salaries, according to the city.

"Our crime rate is remarkably low considering the number of police officers that we have, but these are critical staffing numbers right now," Zimmerman told the council. 

A pay raise for officers was approved by Mayor Faulconer in December. Officers will see an up to 30.6 percent increase in salary by July 2018.

She marks the pay raise agreement as another highlight to her career.

"To now be able to have this pay package, it's been an immediate game-changer," she said. 

When asked what's next for her career, Zimmerman wouldn't specify but did say it will involve giving back to the city she loves, San Diego. 

But first, the chief who has spent much of her time working 80-hour work weeks is looking forward to some sleep. 

“I normally get up at 4:45 a.m. every morning," Zimmerman told NBC 7. "I will tell you that on March 2, I am not getting up at 4:45 a.m."

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