New Chief of Police Walt Vasquez getting reacquainted to serve the citizens of La Mesa
La Mesa Police Department swore in its new Chief of Police Walt Vasquez on April 6. Two weeks into his new law enforcement role, Vasquez spoke enthusiastically of the “professionalism” and “welcome” with which his team members in the department greeted him as successor to the highly regarded Ed Aceves. Former La Mesa chief of police Aceves retired officially in December but stayed on as acting interim chief until Vasquez came aboard.
Vasquez said that this was the first police chief job he tried for, because of the “well-respected” reputation La Mesa’s department earned throughout San Diego County. Vasquez applied for the position within a few days of Aceves announcing his planned retirement last fall.
Vasquez is a native San Diegan with long ties to East County. He played Pony League Baseball in La Mesa, and he graduated from Helix High School in 1981. He has been an El Cajon resident for about 25 years.
Vasquez served as a police officer with the San Diego Police Department for 28.5 years. He rose through the ranks there, working in a variety of divisions and assignments, leaving after serving as an assistant chief of police for two years.
La Mesa City Manager David E. Witt said that Vasquez was chosen from a competitive pool of candidates from outside the La Mesa Police Department, for “the exceptional qualities that will help him succeed in his new position.”
“Mr. Vasquez participated in a very thorough application process that attracted a wide range of candidates inside and out of the region,” said Witt. “I have every confidence that Mr. Vasquez is the most qualified candidate for La Mesa’s new chief and will provide the energy and professional commitment needed to be successful in his new role at La Mesa.”
“We are here to serve,” Vasquez said, outlining his view of the law enforcement mission. He described his early tasks as chief as getting to know the citizens of La Mesa, introducing himself and immersing himself in statistics to “get a handle on the crime issues and trends in La Mesa.” He has appreciation for new police officers joining the force. He taught at the San Diego Police Academy for more than 10 years.
“I believe it is my responsibility and my honor to get to know each of my officers and my team members on a first-name basis,” he said of his approach to organizational leadership and department management. His new team has 68 sworn officers and 31 civilian employees, a far cry from the roughly 2,000 total city employees who work for SDPD.
He noted that the department had recently hired new officers. “Yesterday, we had two new officers graduate from the academy,” he said.
Vasquez admitted, too, that he understands some members of his new La Mesa team may be experiencing “uncertainty” and finding this time in some ways “difficult,” because retired Aceves was very popular during his 30-plus years with the La Mesa Police Department.
One first impression Vasquez has had is that he has been greeted warmly.
“My team here has treated me with the utmost professionalism, and I appreciate that tremendously,” he said.
“I do honestly believe that any successful and effective police department must work on keeping a strong partnership with the community through constant communications with the citizens,” he said.
During his first two weeks, he has been meeting community officials and business leaders. He went on, “At this point, I am learning to understand the city, getting to know the city leaders and my new team. I will be working on building strong relationships here. Then I can gauge where La Mesa is so that we can help the citizens stay safe.”
Vasquez said that car burglaries have been a significant problem in La Mesa and will be “team focus” in crime prevention efforts and community education outreach. He advises that citizens should always remain aware of their surroundings and take the simple anti-crime measures of always locking their vehicles and removing or keeping any valuables in a car hidden from exposure.
Vasquez further noted that La Mesa is in a good position for citizen safety because of the “strong working relationships” among the area police departments that border each other. He praised the El Cajon Police Department, the San Diego Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department for their notable cooperation and collaboration with La Mesa Police Department in these efforts.
Vasquez expects his transition to follow a smooth path. He said that although he will miss the San Diego Police Department team members who were his “law enforcement family for 28 years,” he is happy that even in his new role leading the La Mesa police force he will still be a part of San Diego County’s law enforcement leadership team.
What would he like people in the community to know about him? “I have love for this city. I really care for the city of La Mesa,” he said.