For Eric Christensen, the call came early.
Lafayette’s new top cop says he was in fifth grade when he realized he wanted to become a police officer. His inspiration was a teacher with a dual career in law enforcement.
“He was such a compelling guy, he was the person I wanted to model myself after,” Christensen, 47, recalled. “Because of that contact, (I thought it) was an honorable profession.”
Now a 20-year veteran of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, the respected lieutenant was recently tapped to head Lafayette’s police department following chief Mike Hubbard’s retirement, announced in February. Christensen will oversee a staff of 16 sworn officers and five department employees, and said he’s eager to address the challenges facing those involved in public safety. “The biggest thing that affects all of us as police chiefs or citizens is complacency, and not being ready for what’s around the next corner,” he said.
Selected from a handful of applicants following interviews with citizens, lawmakers and fellow officers, Christensen was the right candidate for Lafayette, said City Manager Steven Falk. He singled out the lieutenant’s expertise in volunteer management and emergency preparedness.
“We really are an area that is ripe for some kind of emergency” Falk said. “It’s good to have another police chief who is comfortable dealing with those situations.”
Crime Prevention Commission chair Traci Reilly said she too was impressed by Christensen’s handling of disasters, including the Walnut Creek pipeline explosion in 2004. Immediately following the blast, Christensen, then coordinator of the Sheriff’s Emergency Services Support Unit, helped set up and run a command post that included emergency personnel and members of the public.
“He’s just a very likable person and incredibly enthusiastic,” Reilly said. “He’s got a lot of energy.”
That energy has propelled Christensen from the start of his career, which began as a military policeman in the Army. The skills he picked up while assigned to the Army’s emergency services are still in practice today, Christensen said.
His first civilian job was with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department, which provides Lafayette’s police services by contract. He was assigned to the Martinez Detention Facility, working there for four years before becoming a field training officer and putting himself through police school.
After hitting the streets, he realized his goal of becoming a detective in San Ramon, which is where he won Sheriff’s Officer and Employee of the Year for 1999. Other awards followed. He joined the Oakley Police Department and became a supervising sergeant and took other assignments before being promoted to lieutenant. These days, he’s running the sheriff’s civil unit in Martinez and training for his new position.
“I enjoy working to no end,” Christensen said about his busy schedule, which includes instructing police academy recruits. He credits his strong work ethic to his Danish immigrant parents and said he took his first job at age 13.
As for his new job, which some consider a plum assignment due to Lafayette’s low crime rate, Christensen is both philosophical and grateful.
“I think that with any assignment you get, it’s what you make of it,” he said. “Having a community that appreciates it’s law enforcement officers is not a bad thing.”