George Crum’s finger hovered over the keyboard on his laptop.
Fifteen more minutes, and time would be up — the application deadline for chief of police of Cathedral City would come and pass.
For most of that afternoon in late August, Crum, a Fullerton Police Department captain, sat on a couch at home agonizing over whether to hit the “send” button.
After all, he never thought he’d leave the department he joined 27 years ago.
“My whole life’s been here,” Crum said.
His longtime friend, mentor and boss — Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes — had told him about the Cathedral City Chief job, urging him to apply.
“I really think this is a good opportunity for you,” Hughes told Crum.
Just before 5 p.m. on Aug. 28, Crum hit the send button on his MacBook Pro.
“I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’”
Crum says he was shocked when he got the news Nov. 21 that he had been selected as Cathedral City’s new chief of police, replacing Kevin Conner when he retires Dec. 10.
He says he never thought of himself as being chief material.
Hughes wasn’t so shocked.
“I knew you would be a perfect fit,” Hughes told Crum, whose last day at FPD is this Tuesday, Dec. 9.
In an interview last week in his half-empty office, Crum, who turned 48 on Dec. 4, said leaving the FPD is bittersweet.
But he called the opportunity to serve as top cop of the Riverside County city sandwiched between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage an “exciting new chapter.”
Crum says the highlight of his career at FPD was playing on the department hockey team that won medals in the California Police Olympics three years in a row in the ’90s.
He’s being modest.
Crum, promoted to captain by then-Acting Police Chief Hughes in March 2012, is part of the management team credited with bringing more transparency and accountability to the FPD following the July 5, 2011 Kelly Thomas incident.
“We’ve been under the microscope publicly and internally, and now we’re in a much better place,” Crum said. “We’re battle tested, and I think other law enforcement agencies recognize that.”
In a statement announcing Crum as Cathedral City’s new police chief, City Manager Charlie McClendon said he was impressed with his “understanding of how the police department and the community must work together to keep the community safe and protected.”
Crum said two of his immediate priorities in Cathedral City, which is much less populated than Fullerton but has a similar demographic makeup, are creating a Homeless Liaison Team and establishing a Chief’s Advisory Council to establish civilian involvement with the agency and promote public trust and confidence.
“I’m extremely happy for George and the community of Cathedral City,” Hughes said. “George served the citizens of Fullerton for 27 years with integrity and dignity, and I’m very proud he has the opportunity to demonstrate his extraordinary leadership skills in Cathedral City.
“George has been a close partner and friend, and he will be deeply missed at FPD, But I am extremely excited for the men and women of the Cathedral City Police Department that they will have the opportunity to be led by this amazing man.
“He is truly committed to our profession and the service to the community.”
Born in Raleigh, N.C., Crum grew up in the small town of Centreville, Ala., before his family relocated to Fullerton when he was 15. He graduated from Sunny Hills High School and started as a trainee with the FPD on Oct. 5, 1987.
Crum fondly recalls the teamwork and camaraderie working on the Fullerton SWAT team and later North County SWAT for a total of 11 years, and shaving his head and growing a goatee to work narcotics for five years.
Crum was promoted to sergeant in 2003, and the following year he began training and certifying officers throughout the state as Drug Recognition Experts.
Crum, a state-recognized expert in DUI alcohol and drug cases, started a Drug Recognition Program within the FPD that has grown to 30 DRE officers. Earlier this year, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving honored Crum with its first-ever DRE Excellence Award.
Crum was promoted to lieutenant in 2008. As a captain, he ran the FPD’s Operations Division, which includes the Patrol Bureau as well as several investigation units.
“I hope I’m leaving Fullerton with a legacy of leadership,” said Crum, who credits Hughes with his success.
Says Crum: “Everything I know I’ve learned through his mentoring.”
Crum and his wife, Rebecca, a retired bank manager, have a son, Dylan, 24, a manager of a Stater Bros., and a daughter, Madison, 18, who is interested in becoming a crime scene investigator.
One benefit of Crum’s new job will be a shorter commute.
Since 2010, he and his family have lived in Riverside County.
“It’s 64 miles one way from home to Fullerton, but 28 miles from home to Cathedral City,” Crum says.
Remaining close to Fullerton will be Crum’s sister, Sgt. Kathryn “Katie” Hamel, who became public information officer of the FPD in July.
“George is a tireless, principled leader who has dedicated 27 years of service to the Fullerton community and the men and women of the Fullerton Police Department,” Hamel said of her brother. “We wish him much success as he embarks on his new challenge serving as the Chief for Cathedral City.”