Dan Cahill wasn’t wearing a white cowboy hat when he joined the Anaheim PD a couple of months ago, but it would have been fitting.
The veteran O.C. cop, who built up a sterling reputation as an innovator at the Orange PD, where he worked for nearly 25 years, was sworn in Sept. 24 as the APD’s second deputy chief.
Chief Raul Quezada created the new position to ease the impossible workload of Julian Harvey, the APD’s sole deputy chief for more than 2½ years until Cahill moseyed onto the scene.
Settling in to his new role at O.C.’s second-largest law enforcement agency (only the sheriff’s department has more sworn peace officers), the clean-cut Cahill gives off the vibe of a no-nonsense, Gary Cooper-esque guy in a white hat.
The cowboy out to save the day.
Not that the APD is in crisis mode.
But with 384 sworn officers and the agency in the process of rebuilding back to its pre-recession strength of 405, the APD needs high-ranking talent of the likes of Cahill to better serve the needs of Anaheim, Quezada has said.
Did we mention that Cahill loves to box and has a third-degree black belt in martial arts?
Watch out, bad guys.
‘A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY’
Cahill wasn’t looking to leave the Orange PD, where his accomplishments include launching a video program to train officers to interact with the mentally ill and creating the county’s first fulltime municipal homeland security program.
At 46, Cahill always thought he would retire from the agency he joined in 1991.
But when the opening for a second deputy chief in Anaheim came, he jumped.
“It was a unique opportunity,” says Cahill, who has worked closely with Anaheim PD officers over the years. The two agencies partner together on a SWAT team, and Cahill was involved on the OPD’s SWAT unit for more than 12 years.
A captain at the Orange PD since 2007, Cahill was running its SWAT unit when he left to join the APD after beating out several candidates for the job in a highly competitive, statewide selection process.
“I’ve always held the Anaheim PD in high regard, and I saw this as a way to tackle many new challenges,” said Cahill, who grew up in Fullerton and graduated from Sunny Hills High School in 1987.
“I’m a lifelong learner, so I always need to have new things to challenge me.”
As deputy chief at the APD, Cahill is in charge of operations, which includes field services such as patrol, traffic and detention; community services, which includes community policing, youth services and volunteers; and investigations, which includes the crimes persons and crimes property units as well as the Orange County Family Justice Center.
Harvey oversees the APD’s support division, which includes communications, records, IT, administration and professional standards, budget and finance, professional development (training) and special enforcement, such as the Angel air fleet.
Cahill praised Quezada’s leadership, and said his goal is to further advance the chief’s goals in the three areas of:
— Community (reducing gang violence, engaging with residents to improve trust and transparency, developing more youth programs)
— Teamwork (“The community is why we exist,” Cahill says. “That has to be foremost in the minds of our officers.”)
— Excellence (“Anything we set our minds to, we want to be a top-shelf organization. We want to set the bar.”)
So far, so good.
“It’s been such as easy transition,” Cahill said of moving from a smaller agency (the Orange PD has 167 sworn officers). “The people here have been incredibly welcoming and very professional, and I feel I fit in very well with the organization.”
Of course, he’s still learning new names – and some acronyms.
Cahill was sitting in a meeting when someone mentioned an issue with “the AMC.”
At first, Cahill thought the person was referring to the cinema.
But he was talking about the Anaheim Municipal Code.
“I think the biggest challenge has been finding my way around the building,” Cahill said.
Cahill got interested in police work after going on a ridealong with a sergeant in Inglewood who was a friend of his father, a salesman and private pilot who sparked Cahill’s lifelong interest in aviation.
Cahill, who got his pilot’s license at 18 and by age 21 had his commercial pilot’s license, thought aviation would turn out to be his career path, but the eventful ridealong — there were two drive-by shootings — changed everything.
“I came home and couldn’t sleep,” Cahill recalled. “I loved the teamwork aspect of policing and the idea of always having new challenges, and this sounds cliché, but I also loved the fact (cops) were trying to do something about the injustices that exist.”
At the time a business major at Cal State Fullerton — “Business bored the hell out of me, quite frankly” — Cahill switched to majoring in criminal justice.
Three months after the ridealong, Cahill put himself through a reserve academy in Fullerton and was picked up by the Orange Police Department as a reserve officer.
He then was hired full time and went through the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy, graduating near the top of his class.
At the Orange PD, Cahill had a varied career, from patrol officer to use-of-force instructor, field training officer, gang detective, fiscal affairs manager, and property crimes detective, to name a few assignments.
With the support of OPD Chief Bob Gustafson, who Cahill calls one of his key mentors, Cahill went to Israel twice, in 2006 and 2008, to train with Israeli law enforcement in homeland security and counter-terrorism. Several police officers in Anaheim and other city officials accompanied him in 2006, further connecting Cahill to the agency he would join this year.
Cahill says the highlight of his career at the OPD was doing things that had a true impact on the community. He says his work involving mental health education probably was the most moving thing he did while at the agency.
It all started with a resident concerned that cops might misinterpret the behavior of her autistic teen son as being non-complaint and prompt them to resort to force should they ever encounter him.
The resident offered to come to the PD to talk to officers about autism.
Cahill bit, and the session went well — so well that days after, a cop who had gone through the training saw a person acting strangely on the street.
When the young adult ignored the officer’s questions and continued walking quickly down the street, the cop recognized he might be autistic or have another mental issue.
So the officer instead decided to follow the young man on foot and talk to him.
Turns out he was heading to Wal-Mart to buy a just-released “Batman” DVD, and he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him.
The autism training and that incident prompted Cahill to head up an effort to produce a 15-minute educational video for officers about mental health, with financial support from the Orange Rotary Club and use of the Santa Ana PD’s video team.
Since then, a half-dozen DVDs — the first of their kind in U.S. law enforcement — have been produced, earning the Orange PD a prestigious community policing award and an endorsement of the videos from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.
AT THE CONTROLS
Cahill is married with two daughters, one in high school and one who just headed off to college to play volleyball.
He met his wife, Ellyn, a former police officer, at the Orange PD. After retiring, Ellyn Cahill went on to earn a law degree and now is a full-time mom.
A former triathlete and avid mountain biker, Cahill still keeps in tip-top shape hiking the foothills near his home and riding horses.
In addition to his law enforcement duties, he has taught at both the Fullerton College Police Academy and continues to teach at the Golden West College Police Academy.
Cahill holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Chapman University and has attended executive leadership courses at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Gettysburg Leadership Institute.
He’s a member of the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association of Orange County and the California POST Committee on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted.
Cahill hasn’t flown planes in a while, but says he may resume piloting now that he is at the APD. The agency’s Angel air fleet includes a 10-seat Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.
“I love the combination of the mental workout and the precision that goes into flying a plane, and I see a strong correlation between that and police work,” Cahill said. “I think my early years in aviation definitely contributed to my success as a police officer.”
It takes a skilled pilot to maintain a clean safety record, and it takes a skilled deputy chief to help navigate the APD through some challenging times for law enforcement.
“It’s absolutely rewarding,” Cahill says of a career as a cop. “And just because people are down on something isn’t a reason not to do it. You do something because it’s the right thing, regardless of the cost.”
He adds: “(Police officers are) under a great deal of scrutiny now, and either you can be part of the solution or you can sit by and watch life pass you by, or you can be part of the problem. And I’d rather be part of the solution.”
In addition to Gustafson, Cahill calls Orange Capt. Steve Ames and R.K. Miller, a retired Huntington Beach PD lieutenant and a reserve officer with the Orange PD, “amazing” mentors.
He also gives props to his father, Jim Cahill, who he describes as a genuine role model and a great father. Cahill credits his father for instilling in him a love for aviation and the desire to excel at whatever venture he put his mind to.
Cahill may not wear a white hat.
But for those wear black ones, well, there’s a new deputy chief in town.
And he knows what he’s doing.
“If something involves overcoming adversity or risk through the application of skill,” Cahill says, “I’m drawn to it.”