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Out of His Father’s Shadow, Joe Vargas Created a Policing Legacy of His Own

Ask Anaheim Police Capt. Joe Vargas why he became a cop and he doesn’t hesitate: “My Dad.”

Capt. Joe Vargas and his father, Ret. Santa Ana Police Ofc. Jose Vargas

His father, Jose Vargas, was Santa Ana Police Department’s first Hispanic Affairs Officer and one of Orange County’s most beloved community leaders. He was credited with creating trust between the Latino community and the police department at a time “when police officers were to be feared,” his son said.

In many ways, Joe Vargas modeled his 30-year law enforcement career after his father’s. But when he retires in May, Joe Vargas will leave behind a legacy of police and community innovation all his own.

“With Joe, there were a lot of firsts,” said Capt. Bob Conklin.

A 30-year APD career begins

He founded the Anaheim Police Activities League, now known as Cops 4 Kids, which helped the city gain the upper hand during the 1990s drug and gang crisis. Over the years it has served thousands of at-risk children. An outgrowth was the first community-oriented policing team, which he led. Perhaps most significant was Vargas’ effort in professionalizing and improving police relations with the media.

John Dunphy, an Orange County Register editor, recalls that police departments weren’t very open back then.

“He realized before others that it would be good for us – and for the police department – to let us know about some of the good things they were doing,” he said.

His effort led to positive stories that humanized police officers – and even resulted in social change. He alerted journalists to the dangerous living conditions facing young children in residential motels. The reports that followed led to a countywide strategy that has helped thousands of motel families.

As a supervisor, Vargas served as incident commander during the Anaheim Angels 2002 World Series championship – 14 months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He also oversaw the investigation of several high profile murders.

Conklin said there’s a common theme behind Vargas’ successes.

“Our job is people,” he said. “Everywhere he goes – no matter what assignment he’s in – people in our community and in our department – turn to Joe. They trust him. They respect him. They look up to him.”

Vargas’ interest in police work started early. At 13, he was a scout at the now-defunct Stanton Police Department. After just a few ride-alongs, he realized the way his father interacted with the community – and even criminals – was special. His father’s perspective was different, Joe Vargas said.

A Mexican immigrant, Jose Vargas was deported 13 times. He fed seven children on a trashman’s salary before becoming a police officer.

“He was very decent to people,” Joe Vargas said. “In terms of community policing, he was before his time. For him it was all about the people.”

Vargas joined Anaheim PD in 1980. Like his father, he worked hard to connect with the community.

“We would be out patrolling densely-populated apartment communities, trying to catch people selling drugs, and kids would come up and say, ‘Hi Officer Vargas,’” Conklin recalled.

But they weren’t only focused on neighborhood dealers. In 1989, the narcotics team made the second biggest bust in California history, seizing more than 2,200 kilos of cocaine after figuring out how cartels used big-rigs for distribution. Joe points to a picture of the team in Sgt. Fred Nichols’ office. His hair was longer – and darker – back then.

APD's narcotics team made some of the biggest busts in history

“Joe is a very strong partner,” said Steve Swaim, Anaheim’s Community Services Manager and former Drug Czar. “He made a made a significant difference.”

Vargas’ younger brother, Phil, followed his father and brother into police work. He is an investigator on Anaheim PD’s Crime Task Force.

He said there’s “a lot of pride” in the Vargas family for all Joe has accomplished.

Capt. Vargas was incident commander during the Anaheim Angels 2002 World Series championship

“Even bad guys have nothing but good things to say about him,” Phil Vargas said. “He was decent to everybody – even people he put in jail.”

Although he is retiring, Joe Vargas said he plans to continue training media relations to police leaders. On a recent afternoon, Vargas walked through the second-floor investigations bureau and chatted with several of the detectives he oversees.

One investigator updated him on a new lead in an old homicide. Another discussed how some home burglars who “hit the jackpot” were about to be locked up.

“We have so many people here who are so talented and passionate about what they do,” he said. “Anaheim was the only department I applied to work at because it had a great reputation. Almost thirty years later and it’s still a destination department.”

Vargas lives in Corona with his wife Jennifer. They have three children. None plan to become cops. They are planning careers in the ministry.

“What I learned from my Dad is that it’s all about giving,” he said. “Now is a good time to retire. It’s time to give others an opportunity. We have some brilliant, energetic people waiting in the wings.”

Capt. Vargas and his father are honored for their service to the Hispanic community

Join APD for Dinner and Support the Special Olympics

Shrimp and fund-raising for some special athletes are on the menu Thursday at Bubba Gump restaurant, 321 W. Katella Ave., Suite 100.

From 5-9 p.m., Anaheim police officers will serve hundreds of meals, and they will donate their tips to the Special Olympics of Southern California.

The event will include donated silent auction items. Please join us for dinner and raise money for a great cause.

To donate a silent auction item or for more information, please contact officer Jonathan Nooitgedagt at (714) 765-1597 or jnooitgedagt@anaheim.net.

New Captain Appointed; Four Others Promoted

More than 200 people filled Anaheim PD’s auditorium Thursday morning to celebrate the appointment of a new captain and the promotion of three lieutenants and a sergeant.

Capt. Raul Quezada, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, dons an Anaheim Angels cap after being appointed captain

They also toasted the retirement of a 20-year reserve officer and congratulated another officer for 30 years of service.

Appointed to captain is Raul Quezada. The new lieutenants are Jarret Young, Brian McElhaney and Steven Davis. And homicide detective Richard LaRochelle, Jr., was promoted to sergeant.

“This is a great day for the future of the police department,” said Lt. Tim Miller. “These are some of the finest people who work here.”

At Anaheim PD promotion ceremonies, family members typically pin new bars (or stripes) and badges on each promoted employee. Then, the honoree is asked to address the audience.

On Thursday, the speeches ranged from humorous to emotional.

As Lt. Davis thanked his wife and daughters for their devotion and support, he appeared to begin to choke up. A smiling Miller rushed to his side with a box of Kleenex. Davis smiled. Several people laughed.

Quezada came to Anaheim PD from the Los Angeles Police Department 14 years ago. Quezada, a big Los Angeles Dodgers fan, now is a big Angels fan, Miller joked.

Quezada shook his head as Miller presented him with an Angels cap and asked him to put it on. A good sport, the new captain posed for a quick photo, then promptly returned it.

“I owe you,” he later told Miller.

Also Thursday, reserve officer Terry Bowers retired after 20 years of service. He said he enjoyed working patrol and other assignments and considers Anaheim “the best police department in the country.”

Police Chief John Welter also acknowledged officer Terry Moslenko for 30 years of service. “He served all 30 years on the streets,” Welter said. “He’s a very dedicated officer and the most senior in our department.”

Support Anaheim’s Anti-Graffiti Effort at Taste of Anaheim

Talk about a win-win. The Taste of Anaheim is donating $5 to Anaheim Beautiful’s anti-graffiti effort for every ticket purchaser who enters the code “GRAFFITI.”

The 15th Annual Taste of Anaheim will be held May 13 from 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. at The Shops at Anaheim GardenWalk. More than 50 restaurants are participating. As always, there will be great live entertainment.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.tasteofanaheim.com.

For more about the Anaheim Community Anti-Graffiti Effort, click here.

Survivor’s Academy Graduation Leads Newspaper Column

The tale of 20 women who completed the Anaheim Family Justice Center’s unique Survivor’s Academy leads the most recent “Behind the Badge” column in the Anaheim Bulletin-Orange County Register.

The column also highlights the city’s new anti-graffiti Web site and upcoming fund-raiser for the Southern California Special Olympics.

Read the column here.

APD Remembers Edward Smith

Edward Smith

Today is the seven-year anniversary of the death of U.S. Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Edward Smith, who was killed in action near Baghdad.

A reserve officer with Anaheim PD, Smith had served honorably for more than 20 years. He had planned a career as an Anaheim police officer following retirement from the Marine Corps.

APD remembers Smith, his wife and three children on the anniversary of his passing.

To read more click here.

Teen’s Anti-Graffiti Campaign Earns $5,000 Disney Scholarship

The Orange County Register featured Jesse Gutierrez in an article this week

An Anaheim teen-ager who worked with the police department to educate younger peers about the hazards of graffiti earned a $5,000 scholarship from Disney this week.

Jesse Gutierrez, a senior at Anaheim High School, is one of 10 students from throughout Orange County who earned scholarships for community involvement and academic achievement.

“I was amazed to see how the kids thought graffiti was fine,” he told the Orange County Register. Thoughout the program, the children begin to see the impact that graffiti had on their surroundings and realized that graffiti is not okay.”

To read the rest of the newspaper’s article, click here.