Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 3:21 am | Fair 51º


Local News

Lompoc’s New Police Chief Hosts Coffee Sessions to Connect with Community

Pat Walsh and his staff are also holding meetings at local churches, with the next one scheduled for Thursday evening

Sitting in a local coffee shop, Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh listened to residents air their concerns and exchanged small talk, the first of two sessions planned Tuesday so he could meet members of his new community.

“A lot of traffic issues came up,” he said of the morning South South Coffee Co. session aimed at introducing himself in an informal setting to people and hearing what worries they had about their city.

Not coincidentally, his agency is implementing some traffic enforcement campaigns to deal with drivers who are speeding and not yielding the right of way to pedestrians.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is to let people know when and where we’re working traffic. We’re not out there trying to write tickets,” Walsh said. “We would just like to change behavior.”

For instance, the department recently announced an enforcement effort over the next two weeks in the 1500 to 2200 blocks of North H Street, following an increase in the number of traffic accidents due to speeding and drivers following too closely to the vehicle in front of them. The “three-second rule” is a good measure of a safe distance between vehicles, police added.

“We’re working that pretty hard because we have a lot of accidents in that area,” Walsh said. 

In addition to the smaller coffee sessions, Walsh and other members of his department are holding community meetings at local churches to build partnerships. The next one is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Trinity Nazarene Church, 500 E. North Ave.

He plans to hold similar coffee or community sessions monthly.

“How often do you just get to sit down and talk?”

After all, community members play an important role in law enforcement, he added.

“We don’t do anything without the community telling us. … If we don’t hear that then we can’t help,” he said.

One effort involves reaching out to the Latino community through churches to build a better relationship with law enforcement because gang members often threaten residents that if they will be deported if they report crimes.

“They use their status against them to victimize them,” Walsh said. “That’s just not the case. That’s one of the biggest messages we’re sending to these church groups is that if they’re the victim of a crime we’re here to help them and we don’t care about their immigration status.”

Walsh also wants to launch a mentorship program for youngsters being recruited to join the criminal street gangs.

“If we can interrupt those kids it’s pretty powerful. A lot of them just don’t know they don’t have to go into the gang and they just need an adult to say that,” Walsh said, adding Portland has a successful mentorship program.

He came from the Portland Police Bureau, where he worked for 22 years. He replaced Chief Larry Ralston, who retired after seven years with the Lompoc agency, first as captain and later as chief.

Walsh, 52, also spent eight years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He grew up in Camarillo and Lancaster. He and his wife, Catherine, have two grown children and a grandchild.

Since his arrival in northern Santa Barbara County, another off-duty Lompoc police officer was arrested for alleged domestic violence. The incident marked the third arrest of a Lompoc police officer in 2014.

“I take misconduct — on and off duty — very seriously. I’ve been very specific with my staff. They know where I stand so there’s no ambiguity as to how I will deal with misconduct,” he said.

“It’s not systemic. None of these three cases is related to each other,” he said, adding that department leaders have not hidden the arrests. “I think that’s an important point that people forget to look at.”

He also noted his officers quietly do "incredible stuff." For instance, one found out a family needed something for their kids and purchased the item on his own. Another is working to help organize the Toys for Tots drive at the Lompoc Airport on Dec. 13. His staff was “abuzz” by probation officers’ proposal to partner with police to buy gifts for a disadvantaged families this holiday season. 

When he came to Lompoc as an applicant for the agency’s top job, Walsh, an admitted coffee lover, went to South Side Coffee Co., where he recalled encountering friendly strangers who made an impression on the longtime law enforcement officer.

“I love the community,” he said. “They are so friendly. … It’s been that way since I got here. People are just incredibly friendly, incredibly generous.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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