Changing the public perception of police and strategically mentoring future law enforcement leaders are among the goals of the California Peace Officer’s Association new president, Mark Yokoyama.
The Alhambra Police Chief this month was named the top official of the statewide association that provides leadership training for peace officers and serves as an advocacy organization.
Yokoyama, who served as Cypress Police Chief from 2008-2011, said he is prepared to take on the challenges law enforcement officials face today, including changes in legislation and proposed new laws he said goes against officers’ nature to protect the public.
“With recent changes in the Three Strikes Law, Realignment and Proposition 47, which is looming and would make misdemeanors from crimes that are currently felonies, we are making the role of police officers much more difficult than at any previous time in history,” Yokoyama said.
Mental illness in society, access to high-powered weaponry, assaults on peace officers, reduced staff and reduced training complicates an already-complex profession, Yokoyama added.
He hopes a stronger community-police relationship will help overcome some of these obstacles.
“The police profession must continue their efforts in building community trust and relationships,” he said. “Moving forward, the general public has to do their part to understand the roles and responsibilities of their policing agencies and to be engaged with the profession.”
Yokoyama has been involved with CPOA for 27 years, and is the first Asian-American to serve as president.
“CPOA has a very long history of association presidents of different genders and ethnic backgrounds,” he said. “I think it is tantamount to the changing diversity in California and the police profession.”
His career serves as an example of this progression.
When he entered the academy in the 1980s, Yokoyama said he battled stereotypes from instructors who assumed his quiet demeanor – a by-product of his Japanese culture – meant he would be better adept to a community relations role instead of an authoritative enforcement role.
Yokoyama proved them wrong, rising through the ranks in several departments during his career.
He started as an officer in La Palma in 1987, and was promoted to sergeant.
Yokoyama was promoted again in 1999 when California’s Newark Police Department offered him a lieutenant position. He later served as a captain with that department.
In 2003, he was hired as a captain for the Cypress Police Department.
And in 2008, Yokoyama obtained the most authoritative position of all when he was named Police Chief with the Cypress Police Department.
He served for three years before being hired as Alhambra’s Police Chief in 2011.
While at Cypress, Yokoyama cited succession planning, technology upgrades and building community relationships among his biggest accomplishments as chief.
Part of his succession planning included readying Jackie Gomez-Whiteley, then a captain, to take over as the department’s chief – another nod to the changing dynamics of the profession.
“We will certainly continue to see such an evolution in law enforcement,” Yokoyama said.
Gomez-Whiteley, who also serves on the CPOA board, said Yokoyama’s enterprising leadership style has left its mark on Orange County.
“Mark has always been a very contemporary, progressive leader,” she said. “He’s extremely perceptive and strategic in the matter in which he leads an organization.”
Gomez-Whiteley worked with the Orange Police Department for 23 years before being hired on as a captain for Cypress in 2009.
“I had a significant increase in mentoring and opportunity when I made captain,” Gomez-Whiteley said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and the fact that he was preparing me for a chief’s opportunity whether it be with Cypress, or another organization.
“He clearly made the possibility of the first (female) municipal chief in Orange County being from Cypress because of what he did.”