California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 9

Battle tested John Welter leads effort to restore trust after Anaheim’s summer of civil unrest In his more than four decades in law enforcement, Anaheim Police Chief John Welter has seen his share of crises. From race and street riots in the early 1970s in San Diego, where Welter has spent most of his career, to recent officer-involved shootings in a city best known for Disneyland, Welter is among the most successful battle-tested chiefs in the state. The latest controversy in Anaheim, he says, is among the thorniest. “This is going to rank right up there in my 41 years in law enforcement as one of the most challenging problems to overcome,” Welter says. “Not because of the magnitude of the problem so much – many of the protesters were out-of-towners who didn’t even know what they were protesting. Many others harbor frustrations about social issues that are difficult to solve. “But what happened is a reminder of how hard you have to work as a police chief to get your reputation known in the community, and then how important it is for you to maintain that reputation regularly.” Spanish explaining what was going on and why police were making more arrests. “Communication with the neighborhoods is critical,” says Welter. Part of the strategy to quelling unrest and reducing crime is getting back to the basics of establishing better relationships through tactics as simple as foot patrol, says Welter, Anaheim’s chief since 2004. “It provides opportunities for officers to get to know people, and work with them on solving neighborhood issues that contribute to crime,” he says. “I think we should get back to the concept of being peace officers --- get back to focusing on how can we contribute to maintaining peace. Because that’s what communities really want and expect from peace officers,” he says. There always will be crooks to chase, Welter notes, but police agencies need to refocus on stopping family violence, helping steer young people away from lives of crime, and on restoring trust between police and community by forging closer ties to residents. The recent civil unrest, sparked by two officerinvolved shootings of documented gang members in late July, threatened to reignite when, shortly after the shootings, Anaheim officers and other law enforcement agents swooped into several troubled neighborhoods and arrested about 70 suspected gang members and took hundreds of guns off the streets. “If your strategy is just to do law enforcement,” Welter says, “then you’re too late. Someone is already victimized and you’ll be shoveling sand against the tide and arresting more criminals and clogging an already overcrowded penal system.” Some protesters claimed the crackdown was retaliation for the near-rioting that followed the shootings. But the sweep, named Operation Halo, was actually the result of a year-long investigation with multiple agencies. Welter considered delaying the sweep to avoid stirring more unrest. Instead, he followed the plan but had his officers hand out fliers in the affected neighborhoods in English and When protests in Anaheim started to grow, Welter didn’t hide. 16 | Behind The Badge BTB-Magazine-Fall2012.indd 16-17 Addressing the issues head on He got out in front of the story, talking to the media and reassuring residents that the shootings were being properly investigated. He used his 22person Community Chief’s Advisory Board to help communicate with residents. He turned to them for ideas on restoring and maintaining peace. “What happened is a reminder of how hard you have to work as a police chief to get your reputation known in the community, and then how important it is for you to maintain that reputation regularly” Fall 2012 | 17 11/8/12 11:30:30 PM