The SMCPD ushers in the era of Adams

The Santa Monica College Police Department saw the beginning of a new era on Tuesday, March 1 when incoming Chief of Police Johnnie Adams was officially sworn by Louise Jaffe during a ceremony held by the board of trustees in the Business Building, replacing Interim Chief of Police Mark Kessler. Adams comes to the SMCPD from the University of Southern California, where he served as the Deputy Chief of the USC Department of Public Safety for two and a half years after a 29 year career in law enforcement at UCLA. An alumni of UCLA, Adams graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1985 before being talked into applying to the police academy after catching backpack thieves while still a student.

Adams spoke to the Corsair about his long career leading to the appointment, noting it was his time working Narcotics undercover for UCLA that led to his first interactions with law enforcement at Santa Monica.

“I was loaned here at Santa Monica for a little while," he said. "I bought cocaine here at the beach in the '90s." Eventually his work in Narcotics led to his biggest bust, buying 400 pounds of mushrooms off a dealer in Marin County.

As for his plans at the SMCPD, Adams insisted that he thought of police departments as “service organizations” and that his intent is to directly involve himself in student life and activities to keep his face familiar with the student body.

"We should be out there introducing ourselves, letting them know that we're accessible," he said. "One of the things I like to do is to give out my cell phone number . . . I feel that it's important that the student know that there's somebody in the police department that they can trust."

In fact, during his interview with the Corsair, he received a text from a USC student he was in direct contact with due to this policy of extreme openness. Adams acknowledged how such a policy challenges deeply ingrained perceptions students often have about police, and talked of his prior attempts at USC to bridge the gap between law enforcement and students saying, “When you're in a uniform and people see the uniform, all they think is ‘it's a police officer. I don't want to get a ticket, I don't want to go to jail, I don't want to get in trouble.' I want to break that down. I want people to see you and say, 'Hey, I know that guy!'“

For vacating Interim Chief of Police Mark Kessler, this replacement is a huge break. “I am surprised that I've been here as long as I have been. It was an honor to be entrusted in the position, and it's been a great experience," said Kessler. After assisting Adams with acclimating to his new position, Kessler plans on retiring by the end of the year.

Though he still has much to learn about how things operate at SMC and the SMCPD, Adams said he’s excited about the upcoming challenge. “We're here to serve the community," he said. "We hope that if they have any problems, to come here or give us a call. I like to discuss things and come up with a solution. I may not always agree, or be able to help out, but I think we can at least come to some kind of decision where we're both happy at times."