SANTA MONICA COLLEGE As Albert Vasquez strolls the campus here and interacts with students, he acts not just as the new police chief of the college’s security force, but also as an educator.
After all, Vasquez is just a dissertation away from receiving his doctoral degree in education from the University of Southern California.
Just under three months into his job as the head of the Santa Monica College Police Department, Vasquez is still getting acclimated to his new environment, overseeing the public safety of a 38-acre campus and approximately 30,000 students.
It’s a far cry from his previous stint as the founding chief of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s own police department.
“From a K-12 educational environment, I thought this would be the next logical step,” Vasquez said.
The La Habra Heights native is no stranger to law enforcement.
The north wall in his cozy office just off the SMC campus tells it all, with medals and plaques from a 25-year career that began in 1983 with the Glendale Police Department, later moving up the ranks in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It’s a career that included stops with the United Nations and the Department of Justice, overseeing the national police force in East Timor shortly after its rift with the Indonesian government in the late 1990s.
But his career defining years came well before all of the glamorous work training the police force in Bosnia and Herzegovina and East Timor, to a time when he was with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department anti-drug task force, which gave him an opportunity to work with students.
“The program really got me working with the schools,” Vasquez said. “I had the opportunity to work with a lot of school districts and kids and I liked that.”
After returning to the United States in 2001, Vasquez landed a job heading the police department for the Inglewood Unified School District. About 18 months later, he received word that a similar police department was in the works for the Hacienda La Puente, which was much closer to his home in La Habra Heights.
The job with district allowed Vasquez to develop the department to his own vision, hiring the officers and staff that fit that mold.
After a few years, Vasquez said it was time to move on.
The police chief said that working in an educational environment allows law enforcement officials to also act as teachers, serving as positive role models for students.
“We service a clientele that is probably a microcosm of what goes on in the larger community,” Vasquez said.
Dr. Chui Tsang, the president and superintendent of SMC, said he was impressed with Vasquez’ experience not just with law enforcement in general, but with students.
“I was looking for someone with experience in law enforcement, and more importantly, I wanted someone who understands that this is not the usual kind of police situation,” Tsang said. “Although law enforcement is a big part of it, there is also community relations … and working in education.”
Though the jurisdiction is generally confined to the Santa Monica College main campus and Bundy satellite site adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport, the department does work closely with the Santa Monica Police Department, including training together and collaborating on issues.
The two departments most recently worked together on easing traffic congestion in the Bundy Campus area when the fall semester commenced.
“It’s important that we work together because much of the issues at the college impact the city of Santa Monica and among those are traffic with students coming in and criminal activity expected from a campus with that many students,” Santa Monica police Chief Tim Jackman said. “Working together is really critical.”
Jackman added that the SMC department is at times the first responder for matters in the Sunset Park neighborhood in which it is located.
Vasquez, who replaced former chief Gary Gallinot, a veteran of the SMPD, said that among his goals are to put together a new emergency master plan for the college and work with student leaders to establish a civilian law enforcement committee for the campus. The committee will give students a voice in enforcement matters.
“I’m a police officer but I may not always have the best answer,” Vasquez said. “Once the students buy in, they will take ownership for it.”