‘Nobody… calls us because they’re having a good day’

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By Colleen Janssen

“We are looking for good people skills and common sense,” said Mike Chapman, a commander at the Westminster Police Department. “I want to find people who have a desire to serve the community. Officers have to be able to talk to people and not be badge-heavy. We are looking for good people.”

The department is working hard to hire more officers. Community Liaison Billy Le has been busy recruiting anywhere he can find an opportunity to share the benefits of working for this agency.

“Job fairs, Tet Festival, Public Safety Day at Sigler Park,” said Chapman. “Le has a radio program and we just arranged to post a message on the electronic sign at 9200 Bolsa.”

“Our radio program is on Vietnam CA Radio, 106.3 FM,” said Le. “It’s also on 1480 AM, Little Saigon Radio.  We talk about many topics and include crime trends. It’s an outreach to the Vietnamese community. We need people who are culturally-sensitive and understand refugees, especially refugees who come from Communist countries.”

Working in Westminster is a unique opportunity for officers. The recruitment team is especially interested in applicants who are bilingual.  All officers must speak English, but the agency is looking for fluency in one or more Southeast Asian languages and dialects including: Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, Korean, Cambodian, Philippines. Spanish-speaking skills help, as well. The agency offers a bilingual pay monthly bonus.

The employment process for those ages 21 and older starts with accessing a basic application online. There will be a written examination, physical abilities test, department interview, background investigation, including a polygraph, medical and physical evaluation, chief’s interview, certification and appointment, then on to the academy.

There are areas that are a particular challenge for applicants. Some fail the written exam, while others fail the background investigation due to a criminal record or other disqualification.

“We background check 10 years, or back to high school,” said Background Investigator Rachel Archambault. “We talk to your family, neighbors, secondary references, coworkers, school mates, teachers; anyone who has had contact with you.”

Applicants should be in good physical shape.

“The physical agility test shouldn’t even be a concern,” said Archambault. “You should not be even slightly concerned about running; it should be your stress-relief.”

The agility test involves a 160-pound dummy drag, a jump over a 6-foot chain-link fence and block-wall, a 500-yard run in less than two minutes, an obstacle course, 25-40 push-ups in a few minutes, pull-ups and running miles. This is just to qualify.  When a candidate gets to the academy, these will be part of his or her daily training.

“Some candidates just show up for the agility test and have no idea how they will do,” said Archambault. “Don’t just show up; practice and be prepared.”

Archambault is available to answer questions for those interested in applying for the department.  She can be reached at 714-548-3771.

Some firearms training is helpful, too. Oh, and although marijuana-use might be legal in California, it is illegal at a federal level. Officers are not permitted to use it.

Often, applicants think having a criminal justice major in college will help them get into a department. Each of the staff members recommended a degree in business, psychology, or other field that will benefit an officer in their interactions with the public and for future promotions.

For those hoping for a future career in law enforcement, Chapman had some recommendations. “For ages 14-21, join an Explorer program,” said Chapman. “Become a police aide or intern, volunteer, make sure you keep a good background in high school and college, then go to your local agency for a ride-along.”

Once an officer is hired, he or she will be handling domestic violence, murders, burglaries, traffic fatalities, homeless issues, people with mental illness, property crimes, vehicle, residential and petty theft, traffic enforcement, and keeping the peace.

“Nobody ever calls us because they’re having a good day,” said Chapman. “Occasionally, we receive a thank you card or people show up to thank us for something we did. We don’t expect compliments or thank-yous, but when someone takes the time to call or send a card or an email to the chief or city manager… we appreciate it.”

So, what makes the job worthwhile?

“It’s different every day,” said Chapman. “There’s a variety and a rush, plus, we get to help people.”

One of his best moments was in 2004 when they solved a double-homicide.

“A Vietnamese mother and daughter were murdered by a customer. We caught him when he used the victim’s ID.”

“We get to save people,” Chapman added. “We pull people from a car fire, get their property or car back, or do CPR to save someone. Every year, we do Shop-With-A-Cop for disadvantaged kids. It’s a great job.”

More information about the Westminster Police Department may be found online at www.westminster-ca.gov/wpdcareer.

Photo by Colleen Janssen

From left, Commander Bill Collins, Police Officer Rachel Archambault, Community Liaison Billy Le and Background Investigator Van Woodson encourage interested residents and others to apply to work for Westminster Police Department. Details are available online at www.westminster-ca.gov/wpdcareer.