CLAYTON -- Chris Thorsen's style as a law enforcement official may best be illustrated by how he handled a crisis three years ago when he was chief of police in Oakley.

An officer-involved shooting of a suicidal man armed with a BB gun left his already thinly-staffed department so undermanned that Thorsen promptly left a dinner engagement, went to work and responded to calls in his three-piece suit.

"That's exactly who he is," said Clayton City Manager Gary Napper, who hired Thorsen as his city's police chief this month. "That's the cut of his fabric, if you will. It's a perfect fit for Clayton."

Thorsen, 49, was reminded of that chaotic night on Monday as he packed up his Pittsburg office after a 26-year career with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office.

"That's what you do in a small community," Thorsen said. "There's no job too big or too small."

Thorsen begins as Clayton's 12th police chief Nov. 30. He replaces Dan Lawrence, who is retiring after seven years as chief in a 40-year career in law enforcement.

Thorsen was among 22 applicants from across the state and western region of the country who applied for the job. A narrowed field of eight applicants was interviewed by a community panel and a panel of past and present law enforcement officials, which recommended two candidates for Napper's consideration.

No internal candidates applied.

There is little Thorsen hasn't done in his 26 years of service. He's been a beat cop, jailer, detective, SWAT team member, and sergeant in charge of training.


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But Thorsen said his greatest assignment to date was the five-and-a-half years he was chief of police in Oakley, which contracts with the Sheriff's Office for police services.

Thorsen oversaw a period of growth within the Oakley department but was promoted to captain within the Sheriff's Office just as the economic recession began to take hold of city governments.

"He didn't want to leave and we didn't want him to," said Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery. "I even met with then-Sheriff (Warren) Rupf on two occasions and asked him to consider the promotion to captain and still keep him in Oakley."

The small-town atmosphere of Clayton is what drew him to apply, Thorsen said.

Thorsen, who will oversee a department of 11 sworn officers including himself, plans to emphasize community policing and encourage officers to get out of their patrol cars and meet residents.

"I really believe that the smaller municipalities are one of the few areas where government works the way it's supposed to work," said Thorsen. "You represent the people and you know who your constituents are."

Thorsen will be officially sworn in at the Dec. 4 City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

"Clayton residents will be getting a friendly and easy-to-get-along-with chief that is also technically competent," said Montgomery. "It is a powerful combination."

David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.

Chris thorsen
Age: 49
Experience: 26 years in Contra Costa Sheriff's Office, including five years as Oakley police chief
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, Union Institute and University