Two days before his official last day as Buena Park Police Chief, Corey Sianez was still trying to figure out how to pack a 42-year career into a handful of boxes.
The truth was, he couldn’t take everything with him.
There were hundreds of personalized cards, stuffed animals, awards, coins, certificates, handwritten letters, plaques, old uniforms, and shoes that meant so much to him. Tangible memories that couldn’t encapsulate everything he had experienced at Buena Park Police Department.
But sitting on his empty desk, still unpacked, was a lone inspirational desk plate with the words of wisdom he was taught by his dad:
Do more than your share of work
Do what your boss tells you to do
Stay out of people’s business
“I’ve always followed these three pillars, and it helped me do well with everything I put my mind to,” Sianez said. “From sports, jobs, and when I got into the police department. I started here and doors opened for me right away.”
Sianez has been a part of Buena Park Police Department since he graduated from Golden West Police Academy in 1979. He never could see a reason to leave the city, and he moved through the different departments while discovering his own natural ability to lead.
Sianez shared some words of wisdom from his unforgettable career as Buena Park’s longest-serving police chief and the founding chairman of the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, a unique partnership between police leaders and nonprofits to address gang and youth violence, re-entry and homeless outreach.
Get out of your comfort zone
“When I became a police officer, all I knew is that I wanted to be a street cop. I wanted to put bad guys in jail,” Sianez said. “I stayed a street cop for 15 years, but people started to tell me I was a good leader. Doors were opening, and I knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone.”
That meant taking jobs within the department that were — at least initially — uncomfortable. This included working in Internal Affairs, a job that required having to navigate uncomfortable situations.
“Not many people want to work Internal Affairs because you aren’t well liked. People think you are after them. When you walk in the room everyone shushes each other. They don’t want to talk around you, because you investigate people, you discipline people,” Sianez said. “But the best part of that job was hiring people. Meeting all of the new people. Developing the organization for when you leave the department. It’s my way of leaving a legacy behind.”
Be the first guy at the door
Sianez was on the SWAT team for 20 years and it was one of his favorite jobs at the department. He enjoyed everything about being a part of a team, being a SWAT Operator, and even the fear that came from being the first guy at the door.
“It was one the scariest things I’ve ever done,” Sianez said. “Standing in front of a door, being the first guy there, and knowing the person on the other side has a gun? I was scared. But I had to always just think ‘let’s do this’ and that’s the kind of skill, ability and leadership needed … you are the person people rely on. You are the person who makes those decisions. People noticed I was willing to make those decisions.”
Don’t leave a stone unturned
Sianez loved the chase of being a street cop, the rush of the SWAT Team, and hiring new recruits in Internal Affairs, but he found his most rewarding position leading up to becoming Chief of Police in the robbery and homicide unit.
“I worked robbery and homicide for 4 ½ years and it was a job that you put puzzles together, you take bits of information and solve a case,” Sianez said. “You are under a microscope; people are watching you and depending on you to solve these crimes.”
In his early years on this unit, Sianez was given a case that would change his life. A business owner had been shot and killed at an intersection in Buena Park and Sianez was working to solve the case.
With limited information, he went out one morning to a warehouse in Irvine where workers may have had information on a guy with a bad left eye. After several hours, Sianez still had nothing, so he walked to the food truck parked outside and ordered a cup of coffee and asked the guy at the counter if he had seen anyone who fit the description.
Turned out, he did.
He had seen a man parked in a car watching the warehouse, and he had the bad left eye. This began the unraveling of a case that many had told Sianez would be impossible to piece together.
A needle in a haystack, they said.
But one puzzle piece fit into another, and he made his way from Orange County to downtown Los Angeles and then found everything he needed when he got to West Los Angeles, 50 miles east from where he started in Irvine.
“This was my most rewarding case. It’s a case that will always stand out in my life,” Sianez said. “It took a couple of months to solve it. And it’s where I learned that if you think you should do something, just do it because you will regret it if you don’t.”
Know when to fold ’em
“I never thought I’d become police chief. Never wanted to be one, never even thought of it,” Sianez said.
But Sianez also knew he could do the job. When he was approached by the city manager to become the next police chief, he decided it was time to take another role that made him uncomfortable.
The first few years were difficult. The department had a strong culture that didn’t want to change. He had managers suing him, he received votes of no confidence from the labor organization, and he was dealing with budget cuts and changes in leadership within the city.
But he focused on the three pillars his father had taught him and found his way to the other side.
He is known throughout the county for his hard work, dedication, and willingness to evoke change when things aren’t working — including his pivotal and life changing work with the North Orange County homeless community, which he began five years ago when he became the founding chairman of the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative.
Sianez, along with a handful of police chiefs from the surrounding communities of La Habra, La Palma, Anaheim, Brea, Cypress, Fullerton, Orange, Stanton, Yorba Linda and Placentia, have spent the last five years leading the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, a group funded with $20 million through a grant secured by State Sen. Josh Newman for youth violence prevention and intervention, re-entry services and homeless outreach.
The collaborative has been so successful that federal officials recently provided an additional $5 million to expand its services.
Sianez has led the group for the last five years, making strides and being comfortable with being ‘the first guy at the door’ when it came to understanding that police work needed to evolve, needed to turn its focus to community policing. The collaborative conducted a first-ever homeless census and developed an app that helps connect people in need with resources with the tap of a phone. This summer the HOPE Center will open in Fullerton, a new regional hub for homeless outreach.
“We’ve opened our eyes. Maybe we haven’t done things right? Maybe we need to ask, ‘how can we help you?’,” Sianez said. “We pulled our resources together, started working collaboratively with nonprofits, and we started to see a lot of changes. This model is now being looked at by other counties, and that’s something we are really, really proud of.”
Sianez will step away from the collaborative but will pass the baton to the new Buena Park Interim Police Chief Frank Nunes, who will pick up where he left off.
“There was a list of things I wanted to do as police chief when I first started. I wanted to gain the support of the community, gain the support of the council, and develop those relationships within the organization, which was the police union,” Sianez said. “And then I had to develop people for the future, I needed to make sure I had strong, good people in place for when I would leave. And I am happy and proud to say I have done all those things.”