Visalia’s new police chief Jason Salazar is the first Latino chief in city history, but he took the milestone in stride when his promotion was announced last week.
“I’m proud of my heritage, but I’m here to serve the whole community,” Salazar said. “It’s one of the things of who I am, but it’s not a defining thing.”
Visalia is 46% Hispanic, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
Salazar, formerly a captain, was appointed chief last week by City Manager Mike Olmos following the unanimous consent of the Visalia City Council in a closed session meeting.
He will serve as acting chief until Police Chief Colleen Mestas, who left the post last month to begin treatment for breast cancer, officially retires in May.
The new job involves overseeing a department of 140 officers, 78 employees and a $32 million annual budget.
Salazar is a fan of technology. He was in charge of the new 911 center project that should be built soon.
The new automated dispatching and records management system will be installed within two years, allowing officers to write reports from the field and “give us real-time access to information,” he said.
Law enforcement is evolving because of technology, he said.
“The business changed,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of technology 25 years ago. There’s a lot of opportunity to use technology today. You develop an expertise.”
New hires embrace it, he said.
“Most have a college education now,” he said. “It’s more of a profession.”
He said his biggest challenge will be “maintaining the level of service” in a growing city.
To do that, it’s likely that jobs now done by officers will be done by nonsworn employees, as is the case at the crime lab.
“Maybe we’ll have more use of our CSOs (community service officers),” he said.
Salazar, 41, started his career 22 years ago as a Visalia community service officer taking reports in the field. Three years later, he became a police officer.
He has an A.S. in administration of justice from College of the Sequoias, a bachelor’s degree from Mountain State University in West Virginia via an online program, and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.
He and his wife Christy have two daughters.
Former Visalia police Lt. Dave Wheeler, a professor at College of the Sequoias in the administration of justice program, watched Salazar begin his rise through the ranks.
“Jason was committed and he was focused, polite and professional,” Wheeler said. “He’s got a pleasant demeanor, yet has a command presence. He’s the consummate professional.”
Being in police work came naturally for Salazar because he grew up in a law enforcement family in Porterville. His father was a lieutenant at the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and worked at the Porterville Police Department.
Salazar served as a detective in violent crimes and sexual assault, patrol sergeant, and as a leader of the special enforcement bureau that cracked down on criminal street gangs.
“We had a 70% reduction” in gang-related crime, Salazar said. “I’m proud of what we accomplished.” But the anti-gang effort involved the community, not just police, he said.