Alex Gammelgard discusses his goals as new Grass Valley chief of police
Alex Gammelgard considers himself the black sheep of his family.
The youngest of three boys, and the only one who ended up pursuing a law enforcement career in a family of credentialed educators, Gammelgard said his sense of public service was probably instilled while growing up as a child.
“I joked because in a lot of ways we are doing the same kind of work,” said Gammelgard, an 11-year veteran of the Grass Valley Police Department who replaces retired Chief John Foster as the head of law enforcement in the community. “I think it’s unique that you basically have the entire family in public service.”
The 34-year-old father of two boys was officially sworn in as the new police chief during Tuesday’s Grass Valley City Council meeting.
“This department means a lot to me, because it is the first place I worked at as a full-time officer,” Gammelgard said, “and the community means even that much more to me, because it’s where I grew up.”
He joined the Grass Valley Police Department in January 2005 as a patrol officer, and has since risen through the ranks. Throughout his time at the department, he has served as a field training officer, as a detective, as a member of the Special Incident Team, and as the president of the Police Officers’ Association.
He was promoted to sergeant in July 2012, and to lieutenant in February 2014.
But Gammelgard said his pursuit of a law enforcement career didn’t begin from the get-go.
After graduating from Nevada Union High School in 2000, Gammelgard sought a bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentrations in finance, law and public policy from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.
“When I went to school, I didn’t necessarily have an interest into getting in law enforcement,” Gammelgard said. “I thought I wanted to do something with owning my business or working in the business environment somewhere.”
But that all started to change in Gammelgard’s sophomore year, when his roommate and close friend Steve Perry invited him to a volunteer and policing community meeting held by the Spokane Police Department.
“I know he has always had a deep sense of public service and a desire to serve people, and particularly to serve people who don’t have ability in number of different means,” said Perry, a friend of Gammelgard for nearly 15 years who now works as a deputy at the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle.
“He probably started his path thinking that volunteering with empathy is the way to do that,” Perry added. “I’m going to take full credit for leading him into law enforcement.”
Perry said Gammelgard’s leadership and quick decision-making skills materialized as a young officer. He recalled an incident in 2003 when the two responded to a Halloween party as fresh graduates of the Spokane Reserve Officer Academy.
“It was essentially loud noises that turned into fighting; we were there to break everything down and have them peacefully go into their ways,” Perry said.
But that goal turned awry when several of the party attendees became aggressive, Perry said, and one of them hit Gammelgard right in the face. Perry said Gammelgard instantly regained his composure and made the appropriate decision, despite having just been assaulted.
“We ended up taking that individual safely in custody, and calling for additional resources,” Perry said. “Though Alex had only been a police officer for several months, he handled this with composure that you wouldn’t see with older officers.”
Gammelgard graduated from Gonzaga University in 2004, but he said he had always wanted to come back and serve in his hometown. He was hired by the GVPD in 2005 under Chief Foster.
“I am quite proud that the City of Grass Valley had two outstanding internal candidates to choose from for the next chief of police. Both Alex and Steve (Johnson) are exceptional leaders,” said Foster. “Alex is one who will continue to embrace our community policing practices and partnerships/collaborations with our community partners. Alex also understands our most important asset, the men and women of the police department. With this foundation, Alex will lead the organization to new heights and successes.”
Gammelgard played an instrumental role in carrying out several important projects with the department. He helped move forward Measure N, the half-cent sales tax increase, passed by 66 percent of the voters in Grass Valley in 2012, which allowed the police and fire department to gain valuable staff members as well as replace aging equipment. Gammelgard also oversaw the department’s computer and network infrastructure, and provided direction in moving that system forward.
It didn’t come as a surprise to his oldest brother, Soren Gammelgard, when Alex Gammelgard became one of the two internal contenders to vie for the police chief position when Foster retired at the end of 2015.
“I’m very confident in his ability. I’m excited for him, I think it’s something that he wanted to do as a career in law enforcement,” said Soren Gammelgard, a fifth-grade teacher at Western Placer Unified School District.
Gammelgard listed several goals in his new role as the lead law enforcement agent in his hometown. Among them is finding innovative and efficient solutions to target repetitive criminal activities that affect the quality of life of residents, he said. An example of that is identifying the root cause of a problem and trying to correct in its infancy.
He pointed to the work that Officer Clint Lovelady and the Strategic Response Team have been doing to with the homelessness issue in the community.
“I think we can continue to build on that, and look at other possible solutions,” he said.
Having officers equipped with “state of art” technology and equipment to help increase officers’ efficiency is another priority Gammelgard noted. He also stressed the importance of building community relationships, especially in a time when the public perception of law enforcement has been affected by recent negative news on large-scale national events, he said.
“We can always do better,” Gammelgard said. “And that is one of the goals that I have, is just to always be striving to have stronger partnerships … to show our dedication to the community, and to show the excellent work that our folks really want to do on a daily basis.”
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please call 530-477-4236, or email email@example.com
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