City Manager James Keene announced today that Police Chief Dennis Burns will be retiring at the end of 2016 after nearly 35 years with the City. Burns first joined Palo Alto in 1982, and was named as Assistant Police Chief in 2007. He served as Interim Police Chief in 2008, and assumed the permanent role in 2009. He also served as the Interim Fire Chief in 2010 while the City conducted a search for a new fire chief.
"Dennis has had a long and distinguished career with the City, and while this is certainly bittersweet, he has earned the opportunity to move into the next phase of his life," said City Manager James Keene. “Dennis has been a trusted leader and always went out of his way to add a human touch to our public safety operations. He will leave a legacy of internal organizational improvements and a deep connection with our citizens and the surrounding communities.”
In announcing his retirement, Burns said it was simply “time”. “I am looking forward to the next chapter. The organization is stable, and we have a capable, professional team in place. I am confident that we have the right personnel and organizational structure to ensure the Palo Alto Police Department will maintain its high standards and dedication to protecting the community.”
Keene said that he and Chief Burns had been working on a transition plan that provides continuity and stability among the leadership ranks while the City conducts a national search for a new Police Chief. In consultation with Chief Burns, Keene has decided to appoint Captain Ron Watson, a 26-year veteran, as Interim Police Chief during the recruitment process, which is expected to take a number of months. Watson is currently one of two captains in the department, and has extensive operational and field experience. He has indicated he will not be a candidate for the permanent Police Chief position, and that he looks forward to working with the new chief to ensure a smooth transition.
Burns was recognized for his outstanding civic service in 2014 when he was honored with a “Tall Tree” award for “Outstanding Professional/Business Person” in the annual recognition sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. He was honored for his empathy, level headedness, calm presence and commitment to youth mental health awareness. Burns has also been instrumental in building connections with nearby cities in regional public safety efforts, and is viewed as the consummate professional.
Throughout his PAPD career, Burns has worked all patrol shifts, has served as a SWAT team member, a detective and detective supervisor, a crime prevention officer, and a defensive tactics instructor. He also attended the National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Burns led Palo Alto as incident commander following a plane crash and subsequent power outage in East Palo Alto, and has been actively involved in various professional organizations, as well as community efforts centered around youth and mental health awareness.
A recognition ceremony is being planned to honor Chief Burns at a City Council meeting in January.