California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 15

Santa Ana’s Transformation Once plagued by gang violence, city is now among safest in U.S. Two decades ago, Orange County’s largest city was mired in gang violence. Nearly 90 people were killed during its bloodiest year. The crime rate climbed to 76 per 1,000 residents. and strategy are only part of the equation. Among the other components: experience, relationships, a great team. In the early 1990s, the words Santa Ana and safe were rarely uttered in the same sentence. With 23 years on the job, Walters is almost certainly the longest serving big-city police chief in America, said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association. Flash forward to today. In 2011, only 12 people were killed. The overall violent crime rate plummeted below 25 per 1,000 residents. In December, Forbes magazine crowned Santa Ana as America’s fourth safest big city. “It’s pretty amazing when you consider the circumstances of the current economy,” said Police Chief Paul M. Walters, who is also serving as interim city manager. And consistency. California Police Chiefs Association: How have you done it? Walters: Early in my career as a detective I was introduced to the community policing idea. I saw first hand as a new sergeant how it worked, and what a difference it made in how we policed and worked together with the community. Crime hasn’t been this low in Santa Ana since the late 1970s, when the city’s population was a third of today’s. And crime keeps dropping even as the city cuts policing programs and positions due to the economy. Armed with a master’s degree in public administration and a law degree, Walters innovated and implemented a community policing strategy that has earned national accolades and unprecedented results. Ask him for insight into his success, and he says education Spring 2012 | 15