La Habra police changing perception of law enforcement


Changing perception starts by leading as an example, so it’s no wonder Sergeant Jose Rocha at the La Habra Police Department was nominated as the American Legion National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 2017.

The award is given out annually to a law enforcement officer who repeatedly goes above and beyond the call of duty and who is actively involved with their community.

La Habra Sergeant Jose Rocha, the recipient of this year’s American Legion Officer of the Year Award, recounts stories from his career as he discusses the challenges of being a good public information officer.
Photo by Jeff Antenore/Behind the Badge OC

“I’m just humbled,” Rocha said. “A lot of people are very deserving of this award.”

But Rocha fits the bill seamlessly.

Rocha, who has over 15 years of experience in law enforcement, joined the General Investigations Unit this year as the unit’s supervisor. The unit handles homicides, sexual assaults, property crimes, burglaries, and fraud.

He enjoys working for the La Habra Police Department because of the camaraderie the officers share.

“Everybody knows each other,” Rocha said. “We are like a family. I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”

Prior to his move to the General Investigations Unit, he worked as a patrol sergeant and was the Crisis Negotiation Unit Sergeant supervising negotiators from several partnering cities on the North County SWAT Team.  His investigation career began many years ago prior to promoting to sergeant and he handled domestic violence, sex crimes, child abuse, and homicides.  Rocha was also a Field Training Officer and trained many of the officers he works with today.

Rocha always knew he wanted a career in public service so during college, and while working full time, Rocha put himself through the police academy.

“I thought it would be fun and exciting to chase bad guys,” Rocha said.

Over the course of his career, Rocha has become involved with the La Habra community. Getting to know residents, particularly the Spanish-speaking ones, has been a priority for him.

Rocha helped establish the La Habra Spanish Citizens’ Police Academy – the first of its kind in Orange County. The La Habra Police Department created the six-week academy in 2011 to give predominantly Spanish-speaking citizens the opportunity to participate in a citizens’ academy.

“They come in with a perception and a lot of it is negative about law enforcement, especially if they come here from different countries,” Rocha said.

La Habra Sergeant Jose Rocha, the recipient of this year’s American Legion Officer of the Year Award, recounts stories from his career.
Photo by Jeff Antenore/Behind the Badge OC

The biggest advocates for the program are former academy students who convince their friends and family to sign up.

During the academy, citizens get to know the officers while getting an inside look into how the different units of the La Habra Police operate. These new insights often change many people’s impressions of police.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Going into the class I thought you guys were all mean and hard to approach, but this has changed my opinion.’ I appreciate that impact,” Rocha said.

With law enforcement under constant scrutiny, the nature of the field is evolving and Rocha says there is always room to improve.

“Reaching out to the community, I think, really proves to have a positive effect,” Rocha said. “We’re human, too. We can make mistakes at times, but we try our best.”

The most important thing, Rocha said, is to simply answer up to any mistakes made, being forthcoming and up front with information.

In addition to Rocha’s work in the General Investigations Unit, he serves as La Habra Police Department’s Public Information Officer, providing information to residents and media.

“You have to be careful and not compromise any type of investigation that is ongoing,” Rocha said. “It can look like we’re not being transparent, but … we don’t want to compromise an investigation.”

Being unable to disclose details about cases while remaining transparent adds an extra layer of difficulty to being a Public Information Officer.

Even though at times policing can be challenging, Rocha says, “I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

“The La Habra Police Department has been very good to me,” he said. “I am just enjoying every day…It’s never the same thing.  You never know what you are going to encounter.”