Advisors bid farewell to chief who listened

John Welter formed Orange County’s first Police Chief’s Advisory Board nearly a decade ago.

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His goal: to bring a diverse group of community, business and school leaders together to discuss public safety issues, to solve community problems and to build relationships.

If his final meeting before retiring offers clues, the effort was a major success. The meeting ended with hugs, thank yous, applause and a chocolate cake inscribed, “We love you.” It was topped with a miniature police car.

Perhaps most telling was how the 21-member board spent most of their last formal meeting with Welter. For more than an hour, they debated the pros, cons and politics of civilian review boards.

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Some board members said civilian review adds a layer of transparency, which equates to more trust. But a businessman worried that a panel comprised of people who “know nothing about police work appointed by people who don’t know anything about police work” is a recipe for disaster.

“I don’t have an objection to a board,” Welter said. “As long as it includes qualified and competent people.”

Welter promised action, saying he would ask city leaders to seek the board’s opinions on the topic. He also plans to pursue a suggestion from Los Amigos of Orange County President Jose Moreno to measure community trust.

Welter said he hopes the group will continue when his permanent replacement is named. His command staff is already preparing a presentation in June on officer-involved shooting reviews.

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The board accomplished much, playing a role in creating the Gang Intervention and Reduction Partnership, where police work with school leaders to identify and help children at risk of joining gangs; it has offered strategies to business owners to stop graffiti and it has donated dinners to poor families during the holidays.

And it has helped a beloved police chief navigate thorny issues, including last summer’s civil unrest.

“I’ve grown a lot because of your support as well as your criticism,” Welter said.

At the end of the meeting, businessman Bill Taormina toasted Welter’s service to the community, noting many of his innovations, including the formation of the advisory board.

“You have brought us through some rough waters,” he said. “And you have created a remarkable legacy.”

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