“Bernie understands the unique challenges that the City of Santa Cruz and the dedicated officers of the Police Department face every day. I know that Bernie is up to this enormous challenge because he has successfully led the department as our Interim Chief for the past seven months. In addition, Bernie’s depth of law enforcement experience, high ethical standards, and knowledge of our community make him an excellent choice to be our next Police Chief,” said Huffaker.
To inform the appointment, Huffaker conducted a community survey in March that garnered more than 400 responses and two internal surveys, one for Police Department employees and another offered Citywide.
“I am pleased that Bernie has stepped up to be our next Chief. He has grown up in Santa Cruz, and is highly respected in our community and within the Police Department. We heard from our community that integrity, experience and a deep understanding of our City are important characteristics. I strongly believe Bernie is committed and embodies all these values and will prioritize them into practice in his new role,” said Mayor Sonja Brunner.
A Santa Cruz native, Escalante is a 25-year veteran of the department. He began his career at the Santa Cruz Police Department as a community service officer in 1996 and soon after transitioned to a patrol officer. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and served as a property crimes detective and tactical team leader, among other assignments. Escalante earned the promotion to the position of lieutenant in 2009, where he managed the Investigations Division and was the Commander of the Emergency Services Unit Tactical Team, and distinguished himself as the primary lieutenant in the Neighborhood Policing Unit. He was appointed to the rank of Deputy Chief in February 2020.
Escalante grew up on the west side of Santa Cruz. He went to Santa Cruz High, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He earned a BA in Social Science from San Francisco State and continued to play baseball. Escalante went on to get a Master of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership from the University of San Diego. He completed the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Law Enforcement Command College in 2014.
“I am truly honored to serve the residents of Santa Cruz and lead the great men and women of the Santa Cruz Police Department. They navigate tremendous challenges each and every day with integrity, and they make me so incredibly proud,” said Escalante. “It is such a humbling opportunity to lead the Police Department in the City I was born and raised. Now I can give back to the community that has given me so much. I especially want to thank my late mother and father, who raised me with high ethical standards as a young boy, and I know they are so proud.”
The City Council Public Safety Committee will host a community engagement event in May where the residents will have the opportunity to weigh in further on the future of the department’s policies and practices and share their thoughts and ideas with our new Chief of Police. Details on the event will be forthcoming.