One of Oxnard’s two deputy police chiefs — a Ventura County native who has spent decades policing local streets — is retiring and moving to a chief’s job in Colorado.
Eric Sonstegard, 51, will retire from the Oxnard Police Department on Friday after 26 years with the agency. A month later, on May 23, he will assume the lead role at the Edgewater Police Department.
Related:Oxnard crime data hits lowest level in 10 years, report says
The transition will take it from a department serving the largest city in the tri-county area, where more than 204,000 residents inhabit 26 square miles, to a jurisdiction of less than one square mile that is home to approximately 5,300 people.
“I never dreamed or thought I was going to be chief of police,” Sonstegard said. “That was never one of my goals.”
But after a career that began in 1990 with an articling position with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, retirement hasn’t quite materialized as expected.
“Sometimes opportunities arise,” he said.
Chef Jason Benites said in an email that he had known Sonstegard since the summer of 1996.
“We’ve worked side by side for the vast majority of years since then, particularly on the staff of the Oxnard Police Department,” Benites said. They worked “literally … feet apart” for much of that time, he said, tackling projects and overcoming challenges together.
“He always gave more than 100%,” Benites said, making the department a better place and a safer community. “He was the best partner one could ask for.”
Cmdt. Chris Williams will be promoted to open deputy chief, where he will oversee operations with deputy chief Denise Shadinger.
Sonstegard, who currently lives in Oxnard, was born at what is now Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. He considers himself the “prototypical hometown boy”.
“I lived within 5 miles of the hospital I was born in for 50 years,” he said. Her three children were born in the same hospital.
After his internship as a sheriff, he was hired in 1993 by the Los Angeles School District Police Department before joining the Oxnard agency in 1996. His duties cover the entire Oxnard department which has approximately 274 sworn officer positions and 84 civilians: patrol officer, K-9 handler, SWAT team, violent crime task force, training sergeant and more.
“We feel very fortunate to have Eric as our next Chief Constable and are very excited about his start date,” Edgewater City Manager Dan Maples said in an email.
Edgewater, a city covering 0.7 square miles, is landlocked by Denver, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood, Maples said. The police department currently has 19 sworn personnel and 3.5 civilians, he said. The annual salary range for the Chief position is $114,786 to $189,255.
Maples, as City Manager, made the selection, which followed a two-day interview process involving four final candidates selected by a recruiting firm.
“Eric has definitely risen to the top with our three interview panels,” Maples said during a community meet-and-greet.
Sonstegard, whose current annual salary is around $212,000, said his family traveled to Colorado in 2018 for a vacation and to visit colleges for their youngest son. He and his wife, Carrie, fell in love with the area.
“We considered this as a possibility for our next chapter,” he said.
While he planned to retire soon after 30 years – in part to make room for the next generation of command personnel – there was one problem: he loves law enforcement.
“I loved this job. I loved almost every day of my career,” he said.
The industry needs good leaders, Sonstegard said, and having worked under six bosses, he feels he has learned from the best.
The move to the small county of Edgewater marks a homecoming. The city embraces its small-town vibe, he said, but is surrounded by big cities with big-city issues. The new job is an opportunity to get out from behind the desk and get back to some of the things he loved about police work.
“I loved being outdoors…responding to support and service calls and interacting with the community,” Sonstegard said. “With a smaller agency, I’ll have more opportunities to do that.”