Meet new Escondido police boss, same as the old boss

Ed Varso addresses Escondido citizens at the June 2021 Take a Knee for Racial Justice and Community Unity event./Adriana Heldiz

The more things change the more they stay they same eerily reflects the appointment of a new Escondido police chief. That would be Ed Varso, announced Tuesday as new police chief come Dec. 27.

Varso was Escondido police chief from January 2020 before leaving in June of this year to become Menifee’s second police chief. Varso served in the Escondido Police Department from 2002 until June. He now lives at Menifee.

“It is my pleasure to welcome back Ed Varso as the Chief of Police of the Escondido Police Department,” Escondido City Manager Sean McGlynn said in a written message. “I would like to thank Interim Chief David Cramer for stepping in and keeping our police department running smoothly while we had an open recruitment for this position.

Saying Varso would be “focused on maintaining the department’s high standards of excellence in public safety and emergency services, McGlynn added, “I know our officers and all of Escondido are in great hands due to Chief Varso’s proven track record of transparency and leadership within our community. I look forward to his continued success as he returns as the Chief of Police.”

When asked about his return to Escondido, Varso said in the news release, “In the over 20 years that I served Escondido I formed strong professional relationships and some amazing friendships. Returning to Escondido is more than just reclaiming an old job, I feel like I am returning home. I look forward to reconnecting with the police department, city staff, and the community as we work together to ensure public safety.”

Michael Thorne, Escondido communications manager said in an email to The Grapevine that, “The Chief position is appointed by the City Manager. Our City Manager, Sean McGlynn, had the opportunity to reinstate Chief Varso and chose to do so due to Chief Varso’s excellent leadership and proven track record with the police department and our community.”

The announcement did not disclose Varso’s salary. Transparent California, a public pay and pension database that includes government employees, said Escondido paid him almost $360,000 in salary and benefits in 2021.

Unnamed Escondido officials said Varso will be paid a base salary of $250,000, up from $212,000 when he left in late June to lead the Menifee Police Department in Riverside County, according to the Union Tribune. The Escondido Police budget was $54 million this year.

Varso briefly ran the Menifee department employing about 90 officers and other employees in a city of about 100,000 residents after leading Escondido’s police force, 45 miles to the south, with 225 employees in a city of just fewer than 150,000 residents. Menifee city officials said his base salary was $224,000.

Varso toiled for the Escondido Police Department since 2001 after starting his career in 1997 as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. His last day as chief in Escondido was June 28. Menifee swore him to duty two days later. At the time, McGlynn called Varso’s departure “truly a loss for Escondido,” saying in the news release that city officials “will work quickly to engage in a national recruitment” to find a new chief.

Black Lives Matter

Varso knelt with Black Lives Matter supporters on June 3 of that year, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, a little more than a week after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. Varso said what those officers did “was wrong” and that he was glad they were being held accountable.

“What happened to Mr. George Floyd was awful,” Varso said to the Union Tribune, “and it was even that much more despicable because it was an act carried out by police officers,” Varso said at the time.

“I don’t represent that and my entire police department doesn’t represent that, and I’m standing here on behalf of my department to make sure the community understands that we are all together in this, we all condemn what happened to Mr. Floyd.”

Varso oversaw the creation of a standalone de-escalation policy that was implemented in March 2021, saying at the time that the policy “recognizes our commitment to the reverence of human life.”

And yet, Escondido officers shot at least four men, three of them fatally under Varso’s tenure,. All three fatal shootings occurred after the de-escalation policy was implemented, including a controversial incident April 21, 2021, when Officer Chad Moore shot and killed Steven John Olson, a 59-year-old homeless man who was walking toward him with a crowbar.

In September, 2021, an officer killed a man in a gunfight at the end of a pursuit. The man killed in that shooting was suspected in a previous car-to-car shooting that injured a 20-year-old driver. In December, a shootout between a murder suspect and two Escondido police officers left the suspect dead and an officer wounded.

Ed Varso joins the Menifee Police Deaprtment

In a news release, Menifee city officials said Varso felt comfortable with his departure based on the “strong foundation and internal leadership” within the city’s police force.

“I believe the team here is well-suited to carry on the operations of the police department and continue its successful trajectory well into the future,” Varso said in a statement.

City Manager Armando Villa thanked Varso for his time with the department.

“During his short time here in Menifee, Chief Varso made a strong positive impact on his officers and our community,” Villa said in a statement.

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