Retiring captain built Orange Police Department’s award-winning DUI program

By Elysse James

Jeff Burton joined the Orange Police Department in 1989, during an exciting time for lawmen in the city.

“It was a peak in crime at the time and things were just really busy and I just loved coming to work,” Burton said. “It was different every day, there was always something going on.”

Since then, Burton has risen through the ranks to become captain in 2015.

He will retire on Feb. 13, after 30 years with the Orange Police Department.

In that time, Burton has seen a lot of change. When he joined, officers didn’t have cell phones, Tasers, computers, or pepper spray – items that now make officers’ jobs safer and more efficient.

“We were just leaving the station and a call had come out of a 5150, a crazy guy,” Burton recalls of one graveyard shift.

He heard the first officer on the radio calling for help.

“I distinctly remember him saying, ‘Hey, I’m being chased down the street by a naked guy,’” Burton said. “Everybody obviously flew over there… it was this really big naked guy that had just lost his mind.”

The man, Burton remembers, had gone into his house and was kicking the television, pulling the ceiling fans from the ceiling, and pouring mustard and mayonnaise on his naked body. When Burton arrived, the man was throwing a pickle jar at the police.

“(Now-retired Officer) Clark Smith… ran down the driveway, jumped up in there and grabbed his legs around the guy’s waist, his arms around the guy’s head, and this guy’s just covered in all kinds of stuff,” Burton said. “I’d hit him with my baton and it did nothing to him. They both fell in the mud and it was just a disaster. We didn’t have Tasers, we didn’t have pepper spray, things were just done differently and it just created chaos sometimes.”

Since then, Burton has seen – and been the driving force behind – many advancements in law enforcement strategies and tools.

As a traffic sergeant, Burton spearheaded the creation in 2001 of the Orange Police Department’s DUI program, gaining a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety to create a dedicated team.

Orange Police Captain Jeff Burton’s desk displays his passion for his wife of 31 years, Ginger Burton, law enforcement, and motorcycles.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Orange Police Department’s officers routinely receive accolades for their DUI work.

“They’re in the hundreds of arrests of DUIs every year,” Burton said. “Year after year our guys just keep getting awards.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 2018 honored Orange Officer Colton Ivans for 155 DUI arrests and in 2017 honored Orange Officer Daniel O’Neil-Tennant for 273 DUI arrests. Several officers have received thank you letters from those they’ve arrested for DUI, telling the officers that was the wake-up call they needed to change their life.

“You have to think that at least somebody’s life has been spared either death or injury by all those arrests,” Burton said. “I hope it carries into the future.”

As a lieutenant, Burton changed patrol, dividing the city into three areas so the department could move resources more easily. Previously, officers patrolled eight smaller sections of the city.

Larger patrol areas, Burton said, “allow the sergeants the freedom to adjust how they deploy people on a nightly basis.”

Burton also pushed for reorganization, creating one special investigations unit with detectives, narcotics officers, and the gang unit.

Before promoting to sergeant, Burton was appointed the department’s fiscal affairs manager. With no financial experience, he learned to manage the budget and appropriate funds.

“It’s not really what I wanted to do,” Burton said. “It wasn’t where my passion was. It was, by far, the best decision that I ever made. That experience laid the foundation for everything that I’ve done since.”

Orange Police Captain Jeff Burton talks about his career at the Orange Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“In a municipal organization everything costs money that you want to do,” Burton said. “Every project, every initiative, everything takes money. And if you know where the money’s at and you know how to appropriate it… then you can get far more done than the next guy can.”

Chief Tom Kisela agrees.

“The measurable accomplishments he’s done in admin over the last year are amazing,” Kisela said. “They’re just constantly getting things done.”

Burton also has been involved in the internal affairs/legal affairs office as an investigator and expert in nearly every major internal affairs investigation at the agency.

“Every one of those cases that I’ve been involved in, I take very personally,” Burton said. “I feel like Orange has given me far more than I ever expected out of a career and I feel like I have a responsibility to maintain the reputation that we have as an agency.”

Burton is leaving a legacy of efficiency, constant improvement, and good, honest policework.

“He is one of my most trusted confidants,” Kisela said. “He provides very good advice. He is one of the most unselfish, ethical individuals that I know.”

Case in point: Kisela, who joined the Orange Police Department shortly before Burton, says Burton is retiring early for the benefit of the agency – because Kisela may retire in several years.

“Because of how detrimental losing a captain and the chief at the same time would be for the organization,” Kisela said. “And that really sums up what an individual he is…For me, it’s a void that’s going to be very difficult to fill.”