Faces of Christmas

​His work is done quietly, but he’s building loud voices of change in southwest Fresno

Fresno police captain Mark Salazar, center, chats with kids after handing out T-shirts at Sunset Community Center in southwest Fresno on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.
Fresno police captain Mark Salazar, center, chats with kids after handing out T-shirts at Sunset Community Center in southwest Fresno on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

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Faces of Christmas

The Fresno Bee's 12 Faces of Christmas is a tribute to unsung residents in the central San Joaquin Valley who make it their mission to help year-round.

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The basics: Mark Salazar, 46, is a Fresno police captain and commander of the department’s southwest district. He lives in Fresno with his wife of 24 years, Virginia, and their four children.

What he does: Salazar is leadingan effort to change how officers engage with the southwest community, especially children.

“It is a tough district to run. It’s very complex,” Salazar admits, but he has had help from faith-based groups, like Fresno Street Saints, and community centers like West Fresno Family Resource Center and the Boys and Girls Club.

Providing safety has grown into making Christmas cheer for hundreds of children in southwest neighborhoods. Officers delivered toys and clothing to kids at different community centers this year.

Why he does it: Salazar has long been connected to southwest Fresno. He started at the department as a “rookie officer,” he said. But over the years, he has served as sergeant, lieutenant and commander, all bringing him back to the southwest.

His goal has always been to suppress crime rates and make sure the youth and their families feel safe. Between 2004 and 2005, Salazar noted, the department removed 180 guns off southwest Fresno streets. Crime had reduced by double digits, he added.

An ongoing goal is to get young people to trust officers – especially the “tough kids.”

Fresno police Capt. Mark Salazar, back row center, joins the kids and staff at Sunset Community Center in southwest Fresno. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Turning point: He remembered when a child who went to a Golden State Warriors game told him police had arrested his family in the past. Salazar listened and told the boy he understood his concern. Eventually the boy became friendly with the officers, he said. And other children considered to be “bad kids” often ask Salazar why they get chosen to go on trips.

“We are investing in youth like never before,” Salazar said. “We are putting our necks out there.”

Details, details: Salazar is thankful to police Chief Jerry Dyer for placing him in southwest Fresno because it has the same dynamics as his hometown of east Bakersfield.

In July 2016, he was promoted to lieutenant ; that October he was promoted to captain, he said. Previously, he had been in the Street Violence Unit for five years.

“It’s my time to give back. For years I’ve given back by leading units to bring less crime,” Salazar said. “I am smiling more than I ever have. I love what I do.”

In 1993, Salazar earned a scholarship from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department to study criminology at Fresno State, where he met his wife. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a master’s in business.

What others say: Dyer said Salazar’s leadership in building bonds in southwest Fresno that reach beyond the neighborhoods and into the halls of his own department.

“He knows how to build relationships of trust with members of the community and inspires his officers to serve as role models to troubled youth,” Dyer said. “I am extremely proud of Mark’s accomplishments, especially in the area of youth outreach..”

How you can help: Give his officers a chance, he said. Officers in the southwest district are willing to do more now than ever to remain visible and helpful.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez