Facing a crowd of city officials, state dignitaries, law enforcement colleagues and family members, Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns pledged Monday afternoon to ensure safety and provide top service to the Palo Alto community.
In a brief and cheerful ceremony at Stanford University's Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, the soft-spoken 27-year veteran of the Police Department also promised to support the officers in his department and to help ensure "fair and impartial policing."
"I'm honestly flattered, humbled and totally honored," Burns said moments after former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz administered the oath of office, prompting hearty applause from the packed auditorium.
Burns became Palo Alto's ninth police chief in September after a nationwide search. City Manager James Keene, who made the decision to appoint Burns, called it a "profound honor" to select him for the job. Keene also praised Burns as a "person of integrity, character, commitment and honesty," as well as one who prefers the plural pronoun "we" to the singular "I" when discussing department accomplishments.
Keene said he spoke to Burns during the interview process and was assured that Burns would not be interested in being a police chief anywhere but Palo Alto. Burns had served as interim police chief since the end of last year, when former Police Chief Lynne Johnson retired amid controversy over race relations.
"We're very lucky here in Palo Alto that you're our chief, Chief Dennis Burns," Keene said.
Burns' longtime friend, Daniel O'Brien, a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, praised Burns as a man perfectly suited to striking the balance between ensuring continuity within the department and fostering the department's transformation. Burns, he said, "will be a fabulous police chief in a great city."
Shultz, another former Marine, likened the role of the police officer to that of the Marine.
"The work of police, like the Marines, is on the frontlines of protecting the security and freedom of our society," Shultz said.
Burns received a series of standing ovations from the enthusiastic crowd of officers, business leaders and local officials. He then placed his hand on the Bible and took an oath of office, flanked by his wife, Lisa, and his daughter, Emma.
Burns called Monday's ceremony an event that's not about aggrandizing him and his accomplishments but about reminding him of his tremendous responsibility to the city, the community and the department.
Burns also acknowledged a series of challenges ahead, including continued media scrutiny, a lean budget and loss of key personnel to retirements. He promised to the community that his department would provide the highest level of service. He also pledged to his officers that they would have the necessary training and support to get the job done.
"Please do not lose sight of the fact that our job is to serve that public and that this is a tremendous privilege and responsibility," Burns said.