ON THE BEAT: Reedley PD kicks off first Community Member’s Academy

At first meeting of Reedley Police Community Member Academy, Chief Joe Garza stresses community involvement is key to effective policing

Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza at the first meeting of the Reedley Police Community Member’s Academy on May 1, where he was the sole speaker of the convening.(Darren Fraser)
Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza at the first meeting of the Reedley Police Community Member’s Academy on May 1, where he was the sole speaker of the convening.(Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published May 3, 2024  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – The Reedley Police Community Member’s Academy first meeting opened with Police Chief Joe Garza emphasizing the crucial role of community involvement in policing, setting the stage for insightful discussions and engagement sessions ahead.

The first meeting took place on May 1, where Garza told the 12 participants that police officers everywhere, in sprawling metropolises and in small cities like Reedley, rely on the good will and the cooperation of residents to do their jobs; absent these, there would be no order, only chaos.

“We have 32 officers here in Reedley,” said Garza. “Thirty-two to police 26,000. How are we going to force 26,000 people to do what they’re supposed to do? It’s impossible. Community members must participate.”

Garza was the sole speaker at the meeting, which took place in the city council chambers. He kicked off the meeting by asking each participant to say a little bit about themselves. 

Members were asked what they hoped to accomplish by attending the community academy. Most answered that they wanted to learn more about what officers experience on a daily basis. Others mentioned that they believed by attending the academy they would feel closer to the community; feel more a part of it.

Members were also asked what ingredients would go on their perfect sandwich. Bacon and turkey prevailed as the favorite proteins.

Garza also mentioned that he would be stepping down as chief in June. He said he wants to explore other opportunities.

“I’ve had one job my entire life,” he said.

He did not exaggerate. Garza grew up in Dinuba. At 13, he joined the Police Explorer program. During high school, he worked as a parking enforcement officer and dispatcher. The former did not endear him to the community.

“I was the most hated person in town,” he said. He described Dinuba residents running to their vehicles to avoid getting parking tickets.

He spent five years with the Dinuba Police Department before heading to Reedley, where he has been for the last 35 years.

During that time, he worked as a K-9 officer. He also worked on the DUI enforcement team and S.W.A.T. He has been an instructor and a detective.

Garza was a corporal, a sergeant and a lieutenant before becoming Reedley’s interim chief in 2012. He became the permanent chief in 2013. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Union Institute and University. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the West Point Leadership Program, the POST Command College program and the POST Executive Development course. 

He is also a member of the California Police Chiefs Association and the Fresno Madera Counties Police Chief Association. He belongs to the Reedley Rotary and is a board member of the Fight Crime Invest in Kids and the Marjaree Mason Center.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND SIR ROBERT PEEL

Garza began his presentation with a slide titled “Building the Perfect Police Officer: History and Principles of Policing.” He described the origins of today’s modern police force, starting in ancient Egypt and Greece and moving on through Rome and medieval times.

“There is nothing new to community policing,” he said.

He said the modern concept of community involvement in policing began with Sir Rober Peel in 1829. In that year, Parliament passed the Metropolitan Police Act, which created the Metropolitan Police in London and gave birth to formal and organized policing.

Peel developed nine principles for policing. Garza said these principles, which are on display in the Reedley station, are as relevant today as they were in 1829.

“Community policing, what we do, is based off of Peelian principles,” he said. “They were established to build strong community relations. That is the underlying principle.”

Peel’s first principle states that the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. Garza said this principle sets tone for the other eight, which focus on the symbiotic relationship between the police and the community.

The second principle states the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions. The third principle states that the police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain respect of the public. The ninth principle states that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Garza said all of Peel’s principles, to some extent, involve cooperation between community members and the police. To illustrate his point, he used the example of witnesses who refuse to give testimony.

“People always blame the police,” he said. “They ask, ‘Why don’t you arrest him?’ But when we (police) don’t witness the crime, we rely on the public. But when a witness refuses to identify a criminal, guess what happens?” He waved his hand. “Bye, bye.”

He said it is incumbent upon the community to get involved.

“Community members must self-police,” he said.

NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY

Garza’s presentation was not without controversy. When discussing Peel’s fifth principle – which states that the police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law – Garza brought up George Floyd and other high-profile incidents involving the police and Black victims.

He pointed to the statistics, noting that – according to the data – arresting a Black person should be avoided because they are disproportionately arrested; however, he said that would also be considered catering to public opinion.

Garza also reminded his audience that the police must be held to a higher accountability.

“We should hold ourselves even more accountable,” he said. “If we do wrong, we shouldn’t get a break.” To that end, he said it is incumbent upon everyone to hold the police accountable.

“If law enforcement can’t hold themselves accountable, then who?” he asked. The answer was the community, that’s who.

“Police are here to serve the community,” said Garza.

He concluded his presentation by discussing the values and the mission of the Reedley Police Department. Garza said the values that guide the department’s actions are service, professionalism, commitment and integrity. He said these tenets apply to everyone in Reedley.

“Regardless of where you came from, regardless of your immigration status. We don’t care,” he said. “All people of Reedley.”

Lastly, Garza said, “We (police) do our job according to Robert Peel. We have to do what history has taught us. We are not judge, jury, and executioner; that’s not my job. My job is to go out and develop a relationship with the community.”

Next week’s session focuses on the work of patrol officers and the traffic unit.

Darren Fraser
Reporter