NBPD Chief Jon Lewis Retires After Three Decades in Newport Beach: Time for Family & Surfing

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NBPD Chief Jon Lewis / courtesy of NBPD

It will be a minimum of 31 years before anyone can match the unique record set by soon-to-be retiring Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis.

In the 116 years since Newport Beach was founded, there have been 10 police chiefs. Only Lewis, 50, has ascended to the top job after having begun his law enforcement career as an 18-year-old police cadet—in Newport Beach.

Unlike most upper management, Lewis’s entire career has been with the city.

“Even as a kid, I had always admired officers,” Lewis recalled. “I thought their job looked exciting and important.”

But it never entered his mind that he would become an officer here in Newport Beach. It was while attending Cal State Long Beach, focused more on playing water polo than his future career, that he happened to amble by a booth at an on-campus job fair, where a Newport Beach officer stood alone handing out recruitment brochures along with an enticing sales pitch.

Chief Jon Lewis

“I decided to apply for a part-time position as a cadet. I stayed with it through graduation, then went right on to the Police Academy,” said Lewis.

He graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Speech Communications.

Despite all of his weapons and self-defense training, it has been his communications skills that Lewis found to be his most valuable partner.

“I think Speech Communications actually helped me more than my Criminal Justice degree,” he admitted. “Throughout my career, as I ascended the ranks, I always stressed that clear, honest, and intelligent communications are a vital part of our job.”

Of course, often times that communications — especially after the sun went down on the Peninsula — consisted of simple phrases blared in one’s best command voice: “Down on the ground!” or “Hands behind your back!” for example.

At the police academy graduation ceremony, each new officer is asked what their future goals might be.

“Being a K-9 officer and working Narcotics,” he replied with enthusiastic anticipation. As it would end up, neither of those duties would grace his resume.

Instead, he spent his early years overnight on the streets, or on bike patrol around the piers, and through the alleys of the Peninsula.

Chief Jon Lewis at a NBPD swearing-in ceremony / photo by Robyn Grant

“We had altercations all the time, often multiple times in one night,” Lewis remembered: “Everything from belligerent drunks to career criminals. We were a very productive group of young officers.”

Although the NBPD still deals with those issues, it is homelessness and citywide burglaries by outside gangs that have required a new focus, Lewis apprised.

Being police chief couldn’t have been further from his ultimate professional destination, Lewis said.

“I loved police work, being on the streets,” he stated.

In fact, the majority of his career had embraced night watch and patrol. Promotion had been for others. But one day a promotional process opened up for sergeant, and he decided to give it a shot.

“After three tries, I made it to the top of the list, and got promoted,” he said.

It was a new beginning for Lewis, who from that point on saw police work from a new perspective, focused on the humbling responsibility of leading officers.

After several years as a Patrol Sergeant, Lewis worked in Professional Standards, at a time when the department suffered some very serious internal personnel issues and internal strife.

“I had the responsibility of looking into that,” Lewis said. Working those kinds of investigations involving your fellow officers is as tough as any assignment. Difficult as that is, Lewis observed that “It’s easier to do that kind of work as long as you’re fair, objective and you’re trying to do the right thing.”

As a lieutenant in charge of Support Services, one quickly learns how the business side of a police department is run. In that position, Lewis oversaw such units as Records, Dispatch, IT, hiring and recruitment, budget, facility management, and others

Another of his roles was Watch Commander, where he (and his fellow lieutenants) oversaw field activities, both from their control center desk or behind the wheel of a patrol vehicle.

Chief Jon Lewis and canine officer Bubbles

Desk time followed, as Lewis became Executive Officer in the chief’s office. It is there that he became “a public face,” in essence becoming a public relations spokesperson for the chief and department as a whole.

“I learned that media relations is a specialty unto itself. I had to establish relationships with local reporters as well as TV field reporters from all the LA stations and get used to being on camera.”

In police work, information management is a balancing act; you have to answer tough questions in a way that will not compromise ongoing investigations or endanger the community. The great reward in that responsibility, Lewis said, is when you can announce a fun community event, or that a major crime has been solved or that a lost child has been found.

As Deputy Chief, Lewis oversaw a variety of divisions, such as Traffic and Detectives. In many instances, he stood in for the chief at various governmental gatherings: at public, charity or corporate events, or at city council meetings.

As Chief, Lewis established the vision of the NBPD.

“Building on our tradition of excellence, we will work together as a team with those we serve to meet the challenge of tomorrow. We will anticipate the needs of our community and achieve success through leadership, innovation and unparalleled service.”

In his nearly seven years as chief, Lewis noted that “our industry has seen increased scrutiny by the media, watchdog groups, and the community at large. All of our officers understand that their actions and words are being judged, and that they must exhibit the highest standards. I am proud that our officers exceed these expectations every day.”

Hiring the right people is always a challenge:

“We have never compromised on our hiring standards. We hire special people, not just those who want to be police officers, but those who want to be Newport Beach officers,” Lewis shared. “We want a department that the officers, staff, city leaders and the community can be proud of.”

NBPD Chief Jon Lewis (far left) with new members of the Newport Beach police force in 2002

Admittedly, Lewis said, “This job is not for everyone. It is truly a noble calling. I’ll definitely miss the uniform and the mission. It has been a large part of who I am.”

But he is also a loving husband and father who will enjoy his new-found free time with his family.

“I’m going to be the biggest fan at all of my son’s baseball games. I’m going to have more time to be the best volunteer in my wife Darcy’s kindergarten classroom. I’m going to cheer on our daughter, Claire, at all of her events at West Point.”

And in typical Newport Beach fashion,” I’m going to surf a lot more than I do now.”

On December 31, Deputy Chief Joseph Cartwright will become Acting Chief, described by Lewis as “an accomplished law enforcement leader in whom I have the highest confidence and respect in his ability to lead during the replacement process.”

 

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