By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
In Westminster, change and stability go hand in hand.
The Westminster Police Department begins the new decade with a new police chief. But it’s a familiar face to the department and the city. Captain Mitch Waller takes over as chief of police for retiring Chief Andrew Hall this week.
Waller was officially sworn in on Jan. 4 and was publicly introduced as chief at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting.
For Waller, being the chief of police means being the face of the police department. And he wants his face to be familiar to Westminster residents. “My goal is to always put a face on the department,” he said. “I want people to say ‘I know Chief Waller.’”
Waller also believes that it is the chief’s role to be out in the community. Waller has already been practicing the role. He sits on several boards, such as the advisory board of the Coastline College Le Jao Center in Westminster.
One of the things that Chief Hall has instilled is that you truly have to understand your community,” Waller said. “I took that to heart over the years.”
According to Waller, knowing and being known by the community is important for building public trust, an essential component for a strong city.
“Fortunately we’ve shared that trust with our community,” Waller said. “They know their voices are going to be heard.”
Waller is a 26-year veteran of the department and has worked in a variety of roles including SWAT commander, patrol operations lieutenant and detective commander. He has been a captain since 2002 and served a stint as acting chief in 2005 when Hall filled in as interim city manager.
He’s mentored me throughout my career and I have always been a step behind him,” Waller said of Hall. “Whenever he’s promoted I seem to be promoted right behind him.”
Waller holds a J.D. from Chapman University and has been a member of the California State Bar since 1999. Hall is also a member of the Bar and a practicing attorney. Waller believes that continuing education is essential for police leaders and that advanced degrees are becoming more common among the higher ranks.
“We find that law training in general has really helped aid us in our current positions to have a better understanding and appreciation of the law,” Waller said. “It opens your eyes to the many different possibilities of how to approach different situations.”
Waller also trained at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA. Dating back to 1920, the FBI offers 10-week training courses to police managers from across the world.
“They take the best practices in law enforcement and train select law enforcement managers,” Waller said. “In my class there were 24 countries represented.”
“The training and interaction with people from different states and countries is phenomenal,” he added.
Waller also said that the training courses are great for networking and developing contacts in other cities and states.
Waller takes over in a time of economic downturn throughout the world. In California, property values are down and people are spending less, so Waller expects the city’s budget, including money for the department, to take a hit.
“Our income comes from property taxes and sales taxes so we’re forecasting decreases for the next few years,” Waller said. “We’ll be trying to maintain the same level of services that we provide with fewer resources.”
One resource that the department will have is a new state-of-the art police station. The new facility is currently under construction and is set to open in early 2011.
“We’re in a 40-year old building that’s rather small right now,” Waller said. “The new building should enhance our efficiencies and help maintain positive communication with the community so that we can continue to serve them in the capacity they would like to be served.”
Waller believes that it is the city’s diversity that makes the city unique and will keep it strong, culturally and economically.
“The increase in population in the Vietnamese community goes hand in hand with the growth of Little Saigon and we’re starting to see an increase in the socioeconomic level of the city,” he said.
With some of the highest commercial property values in the county, Little Saigon is more than just a cultural centerpiece for Westminster, but is also a major factor in the city’s economic growth.
For residents of neighboring cities, Westminster’s biggest draw is probably its famous mall. Shoppers come from all over Orange County and even beyond to shop at Westminster Mall. Waller also noted that mall shoppers are also staying around for the many new ethnic and fine dining restaurants that are popping up throughout the city.
“It [the mall] brings in people from out of the area and they branch out into other areas of the city,” Waller said. “One thing a city’s looking for is progression and new and unique ways for growth and development.”
Although chief of police is not exactly a “nine-to-five” job that you can leave at the office, Waller does his best to find time for himself and his family.
He is an avid cyclist, enjoying both mountain biking and road cycling.
But most of his free time is spent supporting his children in their activities. His daughter plays on a travel softball team and Waller puts in time as a coach. His son is a strong runner at school and Waller also attends as many of his meets as he can.
“Being a dad and a part-time coach takes up a lot of my time,” Waller said.
For 26 years, Waller has given his time to serving the residents of Westminster. Now it is his time to lead.