Hot factor: Helped save Santa Ana from financial insolvency
By Kelly St. John, OC Metro Magazine
Published: November 01, 2012
Paul Walters spent 23 years at the helm of Santa Ana’s police department, making him the longest serving big-city police chief in America and a pioneer in community-oriented policing. When Santa Ana faced financial insolvency, he became city manager after the resignation of his predecessor.
Today, Walters is credited with helping to save the city from financial disaster by outsourcing the city’s fire services to the county. His long tenure in Santa Ana government made him one of the few people who could transform the city’s 125-year-old fire department, renegotiating labor contracts and saving the city more than $10 million annually.
He achieved this while keeping the same fire stations, fire chief and 70 percent of its employees, and without affecting emergency response times. Walters uses a medical analogy to describe the contrast in city finances from March of 2011, when he stepped into the job, versus the finances today.
“Last year, we were in intensive care,” he says. “This year, we’re still under medical care, but the outlook is bright.”
After a year that he calls “a blur of total crisis management,” Walters is working to transition the police department to a new era of leadership while also looking for ways we can continue to do things differently.
An Air Force veteran, he and his family have deep roots in the city, and there’s no other place he’d want to be.
“Santa Ana is large enough that there are plenty of challenges, but it is also a place where you can accomplish a lot,” Walters says. “We’re not so big that you’re lost in urban politics. There are a lot of nonprofits, community groups and businesspeople who care.”