PLEASANT HILL -- Former Police Chief Peter Dunbar has a new job leading the Colorado board that oversees police officer training and certification.
Dunbar, 51, retired at the end of September following a 30-year career in law enforcement in Oakland and Pleasant Hill. Dunbar joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department in February 2006, replacing current Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston, who gave up the job to take over Concord's police force.
"Pleasant Hill was a great place to retire from. I couldn't have asked for a better place to finish," Dunbar said recently.
Dunbar moved to Evergreen, Colo., just outside Denver, where he and his wife have owned a house for three years. Last month, he became director of the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Oakland native Dunbar joined his hometown police department as a patrol officer in 1982. He was promoted to sergeant five years later, and in 1991 he was the first supervisor to arrive at the scene of the Oakland hills fire that killed 25 people and destroyed 3,300 homes.
"I was there, directing officers up into the fire area to do evacuation," Dunbar recalled.
Officer John Grubensky, who perished in the fire and whom Dunbar had trained, was working an overtime shift that day.
"He didn't have to be there, but he put himself in harms way," Dunbar said.
Dunbar received a Medal of Merit for his role in the rescue effort. He was promoted to lieutenant, then captain, and in 1999 was appointed deputy chief.
One memorable case Dunbar oversaw involved two anti-drug crusading sisters who shared a home in East Oakland. One sister reported the other missing, but police received a tip that the woman had assumed her sister's identity, Dunbar said. Police searched the house and found the dismembered body of the "missing" sister in a freezer.
"It had twists and turns that were out of a made-for-TV movie," he said. "If anyone says they've seen it all they're not telling the truth, because you've never seen it all."
Pleasant Hill offered an opportunity to escape the politics of the Oakland Police Department and to become a chief in a city with much less violent crime, Dunbar said.
But that doesn't mean working in Pleasant Hill was always easy. For example, convincing residents to take crime prevention seriously and to lock their cars, and close garage doors and sliding glass doors was a challenge, Dunbar said.
According to the city, Dunbar earned a base salary this year of $197,484. He is eligible for a pension equal to 90 percent of his top year of pay.
Dunbar says he understands some of the backlash against public employees' retirement benefits, but he asks people to think about the stress and danger of working in law enforcement. He described leaving his wife the night they brought their newborn daughter home from the hospital to investigate the shooting of a young boy.
"I think there's a lot more factors that people should look at; it's not just dollars and cents. Look at the sacrifices people have made," he said.
City Manager June Catalano appointed Capt. John Moore, a long-term member of the department, interim police chief. Catalano said the search for a new chief will begin after the first of the year. Dunbar said he recommended Moore, who ran the department's day-to-day operation.
"He understands what it takes to be the chief. I think he would be a great chief; I think he's smart enough and he has the personality and wit to do the job," Dunbar said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.