Contrary to what you may hear, we are not bad guys. We are disgusted by the death of George Floyd; we are sad, we mourn, and we are concerned. And what do we do? We keep lawful protesters safe from those who want to use a heartbreaking moment to further a violent agenda. Every day we go to work hoping that we can keep Santa Ana safe for all its residents and businesses, and hoping, too, that we will come home to our families at the end of the day.
The truth is the Santa Ana Police Department has been at the forefront of our profession in reform and systemic change going back 50 years. In the 1970s, Chief Raymond Davis brought Community Oriented Policing to Santa Ana. Chief Davis was considered a progressive pioneer in Community Oriented Policing, making the Santa Ana PD a national leader and model for law enforcement throughout the country. During this period, he was also criticized for his outspoken opposition to immigration sweeps (collaboration with ICE) in Santa Ana, which he said disrupted our established Hispanic communities.
Reform and systemic change continued under one of Chief Davis’s successors, arguably one of modern day’s most revered California chiefs, Paul Walters. Chief Walters continued the Santa Ana PD legacy and enhanced, strengthened, and enriched Community Oriented Policing. He established the first ever Community Oriented Policing Team and promoted an atmosphere in which everyone, down to the field patrol officer, participated in community problem solving and engagement.
He established and created the “Hispanic Affairs Officer Position.” For those that know Santa Ana history, we remember the significant impact the late and legendary Officer Jose Vargas had in our city — establishing trust, partnerships, and educational goals with those in the Hispanic community.
During this era Chief Walters also implemented a period of hiring only bilingual officers. This was a very progressive move. It showed an understanding of the needs of Santa Ana. It represented an openness to reform and change. This vision and leadership has become a “best practice” in law enforcement. Having rank and file personnel from within our community providing public safety and policing in their community strengthens relationships, promotes trust and is transparency and reform at its best.
Fast forward to today. What does our police department look like? It is representative of the community we serve. Our community is in our police department like no other in Orange County. We are: 62 % Latino; 5 % Vietnamese; 26 % Caucasian; 3 % black. Our officers now wear body cameras and their vehicles have GPS. Literally, we can see and hear what our officers are doing and where they are at any moment. Since the 1970s, the Santa Ana PD has been at the forefront in Community Oriented Policing, in police oversight and in department accountability.
But we can always do more. Although we have always taught these concepts, we can fine tune our training to emphasize reverence for life, de-escalation, a duty to intercede when we see misconduct by a fellow officer, proportional response to dangerous incidents and even stronger accountability. We are here to assist and protect those who are vulnerable and call for help, but we recognize that much like teachers, we are called on to fill in the gaps in the socialization of our youth. We can expand youth programs like the Police Athletic and Activities League (PAAL) which has officers partnering with nonprofits and educating our young. We can talk about reinventing the DARE program and other youth initiatives where police and the community collaborate to meet social needs. We can explore, and maybe invent, new ways of addressing societal ills.
We must, though, never lose sight of the fact that we are here to ensure that Santa Ana is safe and remains safe for all citizens, businesses, and visitors.