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In a first for Orange County, Latinos lead two largest police departments

A Santa Ana police cruiser. Carlos Rojas officially became the department's new chief this week.
A Santa Ana police cruiser. Carlos Rojas officially became the department's new chief this week.
Brian Imagawa via Flickr

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In Orange County, the top brass at the largest police departments have traditionally been white men. But in the span of a few months, Latinos have come to lead police in the county’s two biggest cities.

Anaheim city councilors swore in Raul Quezada as their first Latino police chief in late January. And on Tuesday, Carlos Rojas officially became the first Latino police chief of Santa Ana.

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Their appointments reflect the shifting demographics of Orange County, where Latinos now make up more than a third of the population.

Both police chiefs, who had been serving in interim roles, will lead law enforcement in Latino-majority communities. (Santa Ana is 78 percent Latino; in Anaheim, it's 53 percent.)

Their selection has won praise from leaders in the Latino community who've had strained relations with police. Tensions reached a head in Anaheim in 2012, when two deadly police shootings set off riots.

Jose Moreno, a professor of Latino studies at Cal State-Long Beach, said that the new chiefs bring to the job both language and cultural fluency.

He said they would understand the diversity of a culture that includes both new immigrants and second- and third-generation Latinos.

Also, "they should know that a family that has a gang member in it is not necessarily the product of bad parenting or neighborhood," Moreno said. "Some individuals made bad choices and their siblings don't."

Moreno said having a Latino police chief doesn’t fix everything. Latinos officers, he said, have been tied to police brutality too. But he said having a Latino chief could go a long way toward making residents feeling like someone gets where they’re coming from.

The Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association also celebrated the recent appointments of Quezada and Rojas. The organization said in an email to KPCC that its goal is "advancing the cause of professional law enforcement and cultural diversity within the communities that we serve."

Santa Ana police chief Carlos Rojas does a PSA in Spanish