There's a new police chief in town.
And city leaders expect the role to require just as much grit despite less pay.
Frank Pietro, formerly assistant chief, took over as interim chief Saturday after Richard Hawthorne retired as Atwater's top cop Friday.
Pietro and City Manager Kathy Kivley agreed that he'll serve in the position for a year. After a year, the position will be open to recruitment, Kivley said.
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Pietro's base salary will stay the same, $119,988 a year. Hawthorne's base salary was $139,857 a year.
The chief's position isn't the only Atwater management spot that's seen a cutback in salary. The city manager's base salary dropped from $167,313 a year to $134,000 when Kivley took over the position in May.
The salary reductions aren't coincidental, Mayor Joan Faul said. "We have a $1.4 million deficit," she said. "We can't afford it. Everybody is helping us — we're working together and all cutting back so we don't have to cut staff."
Reducing salaries is one of several methods the city has pursued to save money.
Faul said pay range isn't something that deters Pietro, who she said is a good fit for the position. "We're very fortunate to have him as our interim chief," Faul said. "He's served the city of Atwater for many, many years."
After working with Pietro during much of his time with the department, Faul said he's responsive and can take on the responsibilities of the position with a smooth transition.
"The city of Atwater and the citizens of Atwater are very, very fortunate to have him as our interim chief," she said. "He's really contributed to our community."
Councilman Jeff Rivero agreed, adding that Hawthorne brought a lot to the tactical and training table during his eight years as chief, and Pietro will do the same with programs he would like to implement, such as a revamped neighborhood watch.
Neighborhood watch is one technique to get officers more involved with the community, said Pietro, who grew up in Atwater. "The neighborhood watch program has failed over the last several years, and I want to rejuvenate that program," he said, adding that one community has taken the program "to the extreme," and he wants to expand it to other areas of the city.
Pietro started with the Atwater Police Department in 1977 after serving a short stint as a reserve officer with the Merced County Sheriff's Department. He spent more than half his career as a detective.
When the position opens up for recruitment in a year, Pietro said he'll have a better idea of whether he will apply for the position.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.