Timothy Jackman traces his desire for a career in law enforcement to the first grade, when he tried to discourage a classmate from pursuing a girl that Jackman liked.
"I said to him, 'You better not do anything to my girlfriend, or I'll arrest you,' " Jackman, now 47, recalled during a recent interview, laughing. "I also had a police costume with the miniature handgun, handcuffs, little hat and a plastic baton."
Today, almost 40 years after that first-grade confrontation, Jackman takes over as chief of the Santa Monica Police Department. He comes to the job with 23 years of experience with the Long Beach Police Department, where he rose to the rank of deputy chief. He spent the last four years heading the investigations bureau, overseeing all detectives as well as the youth services and gangs and violent crime units.
Among his challenges in Santa Monica are implementing police procedures that dovetail with city policies for dealing with homelessness and the recent voter-approved measure on marijuana use, improving use of technology and ensuring that the city's low crime rate stays that way.
"The challenge in Santa Monica is to keep it a safe community," said Jackman, who replaces James T. Butts Jr., who was chief for 15 years before leaving earlier this year for another job. "I don't have to come in here and fix the place," he said, "but rather improve it."
Jackman said he wants to concentrate on the city's few crime hot spots, including the Pico neighborhood, and on youth services, after incidents of fights and shootings near schools.
He also sees an opportunity in the recently green-lighted plan to revamp the city's 120 police cars, including the installation of video cameras in some vehicles. Jackman sees the videotaping of police stops and other incidents as a way of not only holding officers accountable but also for documenting when they do their jobs right.
Noting that residents can now use cellphone cameras to record police incidents, he said it is all the more important that police use technology to record their work, as well as regularly speaking publicly about how and why they perform their duties.
"Now people could have recorded evidence, even if one-sided, on what police were doing," Jackman said. "So that made us have to get out there and explain ourselves in order to heal the community."
Another high-profile issue on his plate is defining how the department will interpret the voters' wishes -- expressed in a November ballot measure -- that personal use of marijuana be the lowest law enforcement priority.
And that is fine with Jackman, who said that is already the case in most other city departments. "My officers have a lot more important things to spend their time on, like tracking down murderers and rapists," he said.
Jackman's former colleagues in Long Beach describe him as focused, disciplined and extremely organized, down to his office space.
Long Beach Police Chief Anthony W. Batts said losing Jackman is "bittersweet because he's one of the brightest, most innovative men you'll ever work with."
"He's a cop's cop," said Long Beach Deputy Chief Bill Blair, who took Jackman's old post. "Tim left things here in good shape. We're sad to lose him, but everyone knows that he wanted a new challenge. He's always up for that."
Born in Amesbury, Mass., Jackman grew up in New England. He joined the Marine Corps at age 17, right after graduating from high school.
"In early high school, I was quite the World War II history buff," he said. "I had this romantic idea of the Marine life."
Jackman stayed in the service for four years, returning to civilian life and developing an interest in technology just as personal computers were catching on widely. He moved to Long Beach with a girlfriend in 1983. A family friend told him about an opening in the city's Police Department.
He got the job and started in patrol, where he stayed for nine years, an unusually long period for someone on a management track. Jackman said he liked the work. "I was making a difference," he said. "It was dangerous work but exciting."
His varied experience in Long Beach included assignments in community relations and internal affairs, and training 400 recruits at Long Beach's police academy in the 1990s.
Sgt. Michael Lewis, who served as Jackman's administrative aide in his final year as deputy chief in Long Beach, remembers going through one of Jackman's classes at the academy 14 years ago.
"My view of him was completely different then; I was the rookie, and he was the sergeant who happened to be a Marine, so we knew he meant discipline," Lewis said. But years later "I got to know how sharp, innovative and friendly he could be."
Lewis said Jackman designed the department's first electronic tracking system, which is still in use today. In 2004, Jackman developed a program for educating officers on better ways to deal with the homeless and mentally ill, and worked closely with mental health professionals to train more than 100 officers.
"That helped to get homeless people off the streets and in hospitals, and not in jail," Blair said. "He was one of the first in the country I know of to partner a mental-illness expert with a police officer in trying to identify and track the homeless."
Santa Monica City Manager P. Lamont Ewell said Jackman stood out among the 40 applicants, impressing the interview committee of residents, businesses representatives, clergy and school officials with the programs he developed in Long Beach. "He has a balanced body of work and knows how to think outside the box," Ewell said. "Santa Monica is a different city than it was 16 years ago," when former Chief Butts came in, "and we have faith he'll keep us going in the right direction with a new perspective."
Jackman, who has a bachelor's degree in business from the University of the State of New York and a master's in business administration from UC Irvine, said he is guided by training seminars, listening to others in the community and at work and, especially, through his avid reading of books, magazines and newspapers. "Reading helps me understand the reasons behind problems in the community," he said. "Officers need to understand that."
Jackman, who will earn $178,000 a year, does not plan to move, at least for now, from Long Beach, where he lives with his wife of 11 years and his two teenage sons from a previous marriage. That will make things a bit complicated, as his wife, a Long Beach police lieutenant, works the overnight shift as watch commander. She will be getting off duty just as he sets off on his 30-mile commute to Santa Monica. "It makes for an interesting schedule, but that's what happens when you are climbing the ranks," Jackman said. "We both understand what we have to do in our line of work."