A 26-year veteran of the Santa Monica Police Department whom officials considered for the top job retired Thursday, ending his term as Interim Chief. Throughout the years, Chief Kenneth Semko developed the department’s first explosive detection K-9 team, taught recruits and created the city’s emergency response plan should a disaster ever strike Santa Monica.

Mayor Ted Winterer called him a “dude of magnitude” during a good-humored farewell Tuesday.

“This isn’t about me at all, it’s really about them,” Semko said while motioning toward a group of officers who came to show their gratitude at the City Council meeting. The Council recognized Semko for his leadership even though it required sacrificing a career dream of his: holding the top job himself.

City Manager Rick Cole said there were a few internal candidates who applied to become Chief of Police after former Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks announced her retirement last summer. Cole told all of them he needed an interim leader but did not want to give any candidate “the inside track.” He said out of all the candidates, Semko was the only one willing to step out of the running for the permanent position to lead the department during the search for Seabrooks’ replacement.

“The weight of responsibility is incalculably greater,” Cole said of the role of chief. “It’s a 24/7 job and you are in a fishbowl. Everything you do is subject to scrutiny and everything the 450 people who work for you do…you are responsible for them.”

Since Semko took the reins last September, the department has dealt with a 12 percent rise in serious crimes and a number of violent incidents that frightened and outraged residents. The regional homelessness crisis also meant more people sleeping on the streets than at any time since the city has kept track. While chief, Semko addressed neighborhood groups and promised to increase patrols in certain neighborhoods.

“I just think you’ve been such a calming, wonderful influence on Santa Monica,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich. “I didn’t know you for very long but I’m sorry to see you go.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council member Tony Vazquez said he thought Semko would have been a great pick for the top job. Council member Kevin McKeown recognized him for his earlier career work on Santa Monica’s emergency preparedness plan.

“You are literally safer in the case of an earthquake or any other disaster because of this man who put together a program that we have continued since,” McKeown said.

The former Chief of Police for the city of Folsom, Cynthia Renaud, accepted the position earlier this year. She will attend a City Council workshop later this month and then represent Santa Monica at the International Association of Chiefs of Police April 25 in Atlanta, Georgia before starting her first day in the office April 30.

“I’m convinced that we have an outstanding leader to be able to tackle and overcome the challenges that we’re facing,” Cole told the Daily Press Thursday.

Captain Clinton Muir will head the department until Renaud takes the reigns at the end of the month.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press