Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros stood up from behind his desk to greet some visitors and joked about his nearly empty office.
“I’m a minimalist,” said Cisneros, who began his job at O.C.’s largest municipal law enforcement agency Aug. 1.
On Aug. 17, a carton of new business cards still remained on his desk.
His office is in the midst of a remodel. By early October, it’s expected to be completed with new cabinets Cisneros picked out: light mahogany, for a contemporary vibe.
“I didn’t pick the color,” Cisneros corrected himself. “My wife picked the color. Let’s be real.”
But it’s Cisneros who has a true eye for design.
Before he got into law enforcement — a career that wasn’t even on his radar until college — Cisneros was a talented draftsman at an architectural firm in Newport Beach, a young professional in his mid-20s with a view of the harbor from his office.
He worked on some notable projects, including the early versions of what would become the Orange County Performing Arts Center, which opened in Costa Mesa in 2006 and now is called Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
“I loved my job, but something was missing,” said Cisneros, who with his younger brother grew up in north Long Beach, the sons of Peruvian parents.
What was missing in his architectural job, Cisneros said, was his desire to serve.
So, in 1990, he signed up to become a reserve police officer in Long Beach — “to give back to my community,” he said.
“Once I went through the academy,” Cisneros added, “I knew this was my calling. It just felt right.”
Cisneros, 52, now finds himself running an agency with 408 budgeted sworn positions. He comes to the Anaheim PD after serving, for three years, as chief of police at UC Irvine, where he oversaw 42 sworn officers.
Cisneros has several years of experience in leadership positions at the Long Beach PD, where he spent 19 years. He reached the rank of commander and served as chief of staff at that agency, whose sworn force of some 1,000 officers is more than twice the size of the APD’s.
Anaheim is Cisneros’ third job as chief of police.
“I always thought that I was a team player, maybe not so much a leader, but a part of a team,” said Cisneros, who is being sworn in Wednesday, Aug. 22 at the Downtown Anaheim Community Center.
“I don’t think you get (to leadership positions) by yourself.”
After his career in Long Beach, and before he became police chief at UCI in 2015, Cisneros served, for five years, as chief of police in Huntington Park. He also served in that L.A. County municipality as acting city manager for some time, a role that saw him helping to craft a city budget and negotiating with unions.
That well-rounded experience will serve Cisneros well in Anaheim, supporters say.
“Chief Cisneros is an accomplished police leader, with a balanced and diverse professional background, centered on the ‘people business’ of our policing industry,” said Dave Valentin, chief of the Santa Ana PD.
“I’ve known Chief Cisneros for nearly 20 years, and I’m certain both Anaheim and our Orange County communities will be well served by his collaborative leadership,” Valentin added. “Representing the two largest cities in central Orange County, I look forward to continuing to work closely with him.”
Cisneros is learning the ropes of the agency he now leads, as well as familiarizing himself with city and community leaders and organizations whose partnerships with the Anaheim PD are critical to keeping the city as safe as possible.
“It’s been great,” he said of his job so far. “The men and women of this department, and also the city, have been tremendous. They’ve greeted me with open arms.”
Cisneros said it’s too premature to map out the direction he’d like to take the Anaheim PD, whose previous chief, Raul Quezada, abruptly resigned in October 2017 after helming the agency for nearly four years.
Although Quezada made significant progress repairing relations with the community following civil unrest that unfolded after a series of fatal police shootings in 2012, he resigned following a vote of no confidence from rank-and-file officers. APD Deputy Chief Julian Harvey served as acting chief before the Anaheim City Council appointed Cisneros chief on June 19, 2018.
“I do believe in certain pillars, if you will,” Cisneros said of his goals as APD chief. “I believe that police departments are here to assist communities to provide a safe environment. I believe that police departments should work with our communities. So I believe in community engagement. And, finally, I think we work with city departments to enhance the quality of life of all individuals. That includes residents, businesses and visitors.
“And all of these pillars,” Cisneros continued, “have to be on a foundation — a foundation of developing the wellness of the men and women here (at the APD). I really concentrate on them so they’re able to do their jobs, and do them well. As chief, that’s my job.”
Cisneros’s mother and father separated when he was 6. His mother raised him and his younger brother, Luis, who now works at Disneyland in the food service industry.
“My mom had two options at the time,” Cisneros said. “She was a teacher back in Peru. One option was for her to go back where she had family. She could have done well, but the opportunities for us would’ve been limited. Or she could stay here in the United States. She had no command of the language, no job, no car. And she picked option No. 2.”
Cisneros is married and has two daughters, ages 17 and 21.
“I always wonder if I would have had the guts to do what she did,” Cisneros said of his mother, Lila, who while raising her sons at times worked two jobs, saving up enough money over a decade to buy her first home. “It was the best thing to do for her kids. She took that road, and I learned a lot from her.”
At Jordan High School in Long Beach, teachers recognized Cisneros’ drafting talents when he took the class as an elective. They referred him to a window manufacturer that paid the then-teenager to draft blueprints.
“One of the things about architecture is it’s a little bit of design, but obviously there’s a lot of engineering that goes into it,” Cisneros said. “I liked both elements, being creative but within a scientific approach.”
Cisneros got accepted into one of the nation’s top schools in architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he earned his undergraduate degree. While there, he got his first taste of law enforcement.
“I needed a job to help to help pay for college,” Cisneros said. “So I asked around and someone told me the campus police department was hiring, and I said, ‘No thanks.’ At the time, I think the minimum wage was $3.25 an hour, but the police department was paying a few dollars more than that, and then I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll take that job.’”
Cisneros’ main job working for the campus PD was shuttling students around in a van from campus to housing off the grounds of the college.
“I was known as the van man,” Cisneros said with a laugh. “I know, it sounds kind of creepy.”
After graduating in 1989, Cisneros landed the drafting job in Newport Beach.
“It took me a little bit of time to get the courage up to tell my mom that I wanted to go in a different career direction,” he said of becoming a reserve Long Beach PD officer and then, in 1990, attending the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department academy to become a full-time officer for Long Beach.
“She didn’t take the news very well,” said Cisneros, who explained that in Peru, policing isn’t considered a profession, but more of a vocational career.
Cisneros was the honor cadet in his academy class — the highest-ranking recruit. He became a sworn officer in Long Beach in 1991.
He rose quickly through the ranks. Only three years into his career, he was a homicide detective.
“Back then, the City of Long Beach was going through some issues,” he said. “They had employees used to working 4/10 schedules (working 10 hours a day, four days a week), but then switched to five-days-a-week schedules. I was one of the very first classes (of recruits) hired on that schedule, and many of the older police officers didn’t want to switch to it.”
After two years on patrol, Cisneros became a burglary detective. Then his drafting talents helped land him the homicide gig.
“I’m sitting in a room and an older (officer) says, ‘Kid, I hear you can draw to scale.’”
Yes sir, Cisneros replied.
“To scale?” the veteran cop repeated.
“Good. You’re on call.”
Cisneros had no clue what he meant. So he asked the guy next to him what the veteran officer was talking about.
“That’s a homicide detective,” Cisneros’ colleague told him. “He’s telling you that he’s going to call you out when they have murders, and you’re going to draw crime scenes.”
And that’s how a young Cisneros, barely in his mid-20s, got on the homicide unit.
“It was one of the best jobs I ever had,” Cisneros said. “The sense of being able to solve the most heinous crimes a human can commit, to be able to work those cases and help people — while you can’t bring people back, you can help bring them some sense of closure.”
Cisneros worked on about 100 homicides before he promoted to sergeant in 1998.
In 2003 he promoted to lieutenant, and after that was tapped to form the counter-terrorism unit for the City of Long Beach.
“Intel is an extremely interesting world,” said Cisneros, who became a commander at the Long Beach PD in 2006. He then was selected as chief of staff, and remained in that position until he left to become police chief of Huntington Park in 2010.
“I never thought I’d leave the city of Long Beach, but I thought the only (position) I hadn’t had was chief, so it was do or die,” he said. “It was a great opportunity. It was difficult to leave, though.”
Cisneros took the chief post at UCI in 2015 because he loved the community governance model the agency embraced.
“I’m a believer in community policing, and I thought their model fit community policing very, very well,” he said. “It was the first time where I really believed that I had the resources available to do true community policing.
“Numerous cities have many calls for service, and while that’s a priority for all agencies, at UCI we had a little bit more time to look for long-term solutions and to (build relationships) with the campus community.”
Cisneros applied to become Anaheim’s police chief back in 2013. He was a finalist, but Quezada got the job.
“The agency has a great reputation,” Cisneros said. “In my line of work, who wouldn’t want this job?”
He added of applying again to become APD chief: “I thought it was a great opportunity. It took me a little while to really think this through, because I really enjoyed where I was. But I thought this was an opportunity that if I didn’t attempt to get it, I’d be doing the ‘what ifs’ for the rest of my life.
“So I threw my hat in, and was very fortunate to be selected. And it was a family decision. In this profession, there are things that you have to sacrifice, and most of it is time away from (family).”
Cisneros and his wife have previous ties to Anaheim.
After they got married in 1992, they bought their first home on Center Street. Five years later, they moved into a larger home outside the city because they wanted children.
They now live in another O.C. city in what appears from the outside to be a ranch-style home, but which inside is an open-style, contemporary living space — one Cisneros designed himself.
Outside of work, Cisneros likes to keep in shape with a Cross Fit-like workout called F45, for Functional 45, a cardio/weight regimen that takes a team-training approach.
He also loves to golf (he’s around a 13 handicap).
“I’ll wake up early and I like to be (on the golf course) at 6:30 a.m. when nobody’s there, and I walk the course,” Cisneros said. “In my line of work, I’m always with a lot of people and going to a lot of meetings, so that’s my down time.”
Cisneros schedules time at work to walk around PD headquarters.
“As a chief, one of the things I’ve learned is that you’ve got to go in and you’ve got to learn the culture, learn what they do.” He said. “You just got to observe. And you’ve got to observe for a while — not just the department, but the community and the many other city departments the PD works with.
“And I believe in the participative model. I work with my executive team. I don’t work in a bubble.”
Cisneros currently serves as vice president of the Orange County Chiefs and Sheriffs Association. He headed up that group’s counterpart organization in L.A. County, and will head up the O.C. group next year.
That may be a first for a chief, he said.
“I’ve enjoyed my career and I continue to enjoy it,” Cisneros said. “I tell people, ‘Life’s too short to do a job you hate.’ So I’m fortunate that I love what I do.”