Atwater offers police chief job to a law enforcement veteran with ties to central Valley

Michael Salvador, seen in this June 3, 2014 photo, ballot has accepted the job as Atwater chief of police, officials confirmed on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.
Michael Salvador, seen in this June 3, 2014 photo, ballot has accepted the job as Atwater chief of police, officials confirmed on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

A veteran police chief has accepted an offer to be Atwater’s next police chief, officials confirmed Friday.

While Coalinga Police Chief Michael Salvador accepted the tentative offer, it still must be approved by the Atwater City Council. Salvador has been chief in the Fresno County city of nearly 17,000 since October 2015.

Details on his Atwater contract have not yet been made public.

“I think the department is happy to have him. I’ve heard nothing but good comments about him,” City Manager Lori Waterman said. “He has a lot of experience we can use to our advantage. “

The Atwater Police Department has been run by interim leaders for about a year, after former Chief Samuel Joseph was placed on paid leave by then-Interim City Manager Art de Werk.

The city officially cut ties with Joseph when he was fired in December.

Salvador started his career as an officer with the Kerman Police Department and was promoted to sergeant there. He moved to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office in 1997. In 2003, he was promoted to lieutenant and in 2013 was promoted to undersheriff by former Sheriff John Anderson.

Salvador ran an unsuccessful campaign to be Madera County sheriff in 2014. Despite being endorsed by Anderson, who retired, Salvador lost the election to Chowchilla police Chief Jay Varney.

Salvador also formerly served on the Madera Unified School Board.

“He’s built his professional career and that’s exactly what Atwater needs: his skill set,” Mayor Paul Creighton said Friday.

Assuming the contract is approved Monday, Salvador would inherit a police department that has shown dysfunction.

Months after Joseph was placed on leave, problems with the department’s evidence room came to light when a letter from District Attorney Larry Morse II surfaced. It informed area defense attorneys that some evidence may be missing. The Sun-Star has confirmed investigators believe the missing evidence may include guns, drugs and cash.

Interim Police Chief Drew Bessinger, who came on in July, shut down the department’s evidence room pending completion of an investigation led by the California Department of Justice. Before that, Sgt. Armando Echeverria served as the interim chief.

Creighton said Bessinger has shored up the evidence room, allowing for Salvador to come in and take over.

The city of Coalinga was an early adopter of the cannabis industry during Salvador’s tenure. Atwater City Council recently decided to allow cannabis businesses.

The interview panel who spoke with the finalists for the job included Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke; California Police Chiefs representative and Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza; President of the Oversight Committee at Fresno City College Police Academy and Kerman Police Chief Joseph Blohm; Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee; Atwater Elementary School District Superintendent Sandra Schiber; and Atwater resident Roger Wood, according to officials.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.
Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he has more recently been located in Merced and Los Banos.