Assistant Police Chief Sarah J. Mooney dropped the “assistant” from her title Monday.
At a morning ceremony at West Palm Beach Police headquarters, the 22-year veteran of the department took the helm, replacing Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen, who is retiring.
Mooney, 46, brings to the job a master’s in social work, experience in community outreach and years of work as a hostage negotiator, police trainer, field operations supervisor, Patrol Division shift commander and Internal Affairs commander.
Mayor Jeri Muoio opted against a national personnel search when announcing Mooney’s selection in December.
“I’ve been watching her over the last few years. I know she is up for the job. I know she will do a great job,” the mayor said Monday at the swearing-in.
“Welcome Sarah. Welcome to the girl’s club.”
Mooney, in turn, thanked the mayor and dozens of city officials and fellow officers who packed a community room at the 400-person police department, which has 294 sworn officers and an annual budget of $57.6 million.
She gave a nod to Delsa Bush, seated four rows back, who served as the department’s first female chief, from 2004 to 2011. “Thank you for breaking the ceiling for us,” Mooney said.
Mooney became assistant chief shortly after Kummerlen became chief in in May 2014.
She joined the department in 1995, after earning a Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Florida State University.
She spent 12 years as a patrol officer before moving up to sergeant and then lieutenant in the Patrol Division. In 2010 she earned the rank of captain, managed the Criminal Investigations Division and served as Internal Affairs commander before becoming assistant chief in June 2014. She serves as treasurer of the Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Special Olympics is particularly meaningful for Mooney, whose stepson Josh, born with Down syndrome, took part in the competition for years before his death in 2007 at age 34. She and Bob Mooney, Josh’s father, have been involved in the Special Olympics for decades and are local coordinators of the Torch Run, which involves more than 5,000 officers carrying a torch on a 1,500-mile relay through Florida’s 67 counties.
In brief remarks, Mooney spoke of how she’d “never been one to pass up an opportunity,” starting with competitive swimming as a school girl, where she made it onto a team almost accidentally, after accompanying her older sister to a try-out. By the end of high school, she’d gone from “dog-paddling” to a slot on the “A” team, she said, comparing that to her rise in the police department.
Similarly the team had successes and failures and missed out on things because of the time spent practicing. But the benefits of being a member of a team are worth the hardships, she said. “At the end of the day, you’re all like-minded individuals working toward the same results.”
She arrives at a time when rising home values are helping replenish the city budget with property tax revenue, allowing for the purchase of police body cameras, neighborhood surveillance cameras, improved computer and communications systems and replacements for an aging fleet of police vehicles.
Kummerlen, 51, in December announced his decision to retire in February, six months ahead of schedule. He said when he accepted the job that he planned to retire by August 2017 under the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Such options, common in local governments, allow an employee to declare a scheduled retirement date and benefit from the state’s retirement plan, and go on to earn a salary elsewhere while benefits are held in a trust fund to be given in a lump sum at retirement.
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