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Like Father, Like Son

The Orange County Register published an outstanding profile of retired Capt. Joe Vargas on the front page of Saturday’s newspaper.

The headline: “Like father, like son.”

The story delves into Vargas’ relationship with his father, a retired Santa Ana Police officer. Their story, the newspaper says, “embodies the American Dream.”

Vargas followed the lessons he learned from his father “to change a police force,” the article says, “And a city.”

To read the on-line version, headlined “The best cop(s) ever hired,” click here.

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

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.”

Former Chief Roger Baker Retires From Des Moines PD

Former Anaheim Police Chief Roger Baker, who served APD for 29 years, announced his retirement this week from the chief’s job in Des Moines, Washington.

Waterland Blog photo

He told the WaterLand Blog that he plans to “work as a consultant to law enforcement locally and nationally.”

He also said he and his wife Shirley plan to maintain their home in Des Moines.

To read the post, click here.

Retired APD Lieutenant Randy West Named Deputy Chief at University of Washington PD

Photo by UW's The Daily photographer Sang Vo

Randy West retired last month from Anaheim PD.

Now, the former lieutenant with 30 years’ law enforcement experience will serve as deputy chief for the University of Washington Police Department.

“One of the things that Deputy Chief West has very strong knowledge of is some of the technologies that the police department can use to provide information,” UW police chief John Vinson told The Daily, UW’s student newspaper. “He will assist us in exploring other alternatives that we can use to disseminate information, in addition to the regular timely-warning notifications that we have to disseminate.”

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Reiss Helped Transform Anaheim Into Safer City

When Capt. Joe Reiss was a rookie police officer in 1976, Anaheim’s downtown was known for its adult movie theater and problems with heroin addicts.

The 1980s brought new challenges. Street gangs engaged in deadly turf battles. The violence escalated in the early 1990s when 39 people were murdered in a single year.

Flash forward to today.

Heroin and gangs still exist, but they no longer dominate headlines. Anaheim is America’s safest city to visit, and has hosted a World Series, a Stanley Cup Final and dozens of major international events.

And the crime rate?

“There was more crime then than there is now,” said Reiss, who retired last month.

To read the rest of the interview with Capt. Reiss, published in last week’s Anaheim Bulletin, click here.

Captains’ Torch Passed From Retiring Joe Reiss to Mike Aquino

More than 100 police and city employees joined community and family members Wednesday afternoon at police headquarters to bid farewell to several retiring Anaheim Police officers, including Capt. Joe Reiss.

Chief John Welter with retiring Capt. Joe Reiss

They also congratulated Mike Aquino, who was promoted to captain.

“I feel blessed to work – and to have worked – with all of you,” Reiss said. “We are a family.”

During his 33-year career, he said, APD’s reputation grew from one of the best departments in Orange County to one of the finest in the nation.

“You should be proud of that,” he told the audience, later adding, “I loved very day of it. I love being a police officer.”

Deputy Chief Craig Hunter presented Reiss with gift from the command staff – a glock handgun with his name, years of service and an APD badge etched onto it.

“If I ever did anything wrong, I wouldn’t want Joe investigating me,” Hunter said, noting Reiss’ legendary detective skills.

Also retiring are Officer Robert Blazek, 20 years; Investigator Steven McIntosh, 17 years;  Officer Guy Reneau, 23 years; Lt. Larry Garrison, 25 years; Lt. Don Klein, 28 years; Sgt. Lew Wuest, 28 years; officer Rick Razee, 31 years; and purchasing specialist Elaine Groom, 20 years.

Reneau transferred to Anaheim from the Vernon Police Department. He said it was an outstanding career decision.

“People come to Anaheim, they rarely leave Anaheim,” he said. “The difference is what we do.”

Public-information officer Sgt. Rick Martinez was also honored for 35 years of service.

Earlier, Police Chief John Welter presented Aquino with his captain bars, noting the “big shoes” he must fill.

A lifelong Anaheim resident and 27-year APD veteran, Aquino is well equipped for the job, Welter said.

“I know he is up for the challenge,” he said. “He has outstanding relationships inside and out of this department.”

Aquino’s most recent assignment included managing personnel, volunteer programs and the Cops 4 Kids non-profit.

Aquino thanked his family – and his APD colleagues. He said his philosophy of “taking care of people and they’ll take care of you” has served him well throughout his career.

Aquino has worked in dozens of roles: patrol, street narcotics, major narcotics, crime task force, internal affairs and the gang enforcement unit. He was promoted to sergeant in 1999 and to lieutenant in 2003.

“I look forward to bringing the police department together during these tough economic times,” he said, “and ensuring we still provide the high quality of service to residents of the city.”