Mike Chapman stood at attention as his wife carefully pinned his new badge.
“Don’t stab me,” he mouthed.
His wife laughed, obliged and then grabbed her husband’s face and kissed him.
The audience clapped.
When the couple left the Westminster Rose Theater after the ceremony in January, Chapman turned to his wife: “Congrats on your promotion.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
Chapman, 45, knows he has told her this before, but he reminds her again: “There’s no way I’d be where I am if it wasn’t for you. No way.”
Chapman’s promotion prompted him to also reflect on his career and forecast how he will serve as the Westminster Police Department’s new East Area Commander.
FINDING A CAREER
Chapman didn’t grow up with fantasies of becoming a police officer, putting away the bad guys or solving big cases.
But that’s precisely what he’s been doing for the last 23 years with WPD.
At age 19, Chapman wanted nothing more than to marry his high school sweetheart.
Her father, also a law enforcement officer, inquired: “Don’t you think you ought to have a job first?”
Chapman had been working part-time in the construction industry and hadn’t given much thought to a career choice.
At the urging of his girlfriend’s father, he entered the police academy.
While at the academy, Chapman realized he had found his career calling and his new wife was there to help him reach his goal.
She waited for her husband to come home from the academy every night.
She pressed his uniforms, cleaned his gun and proofread his memos.
She kept his diet and exercise on track so he would pass his physical tests.
“Now, not so much,” Chapman said of staying on a strict diet, blaming his wife’s excellent cooking for his change in physique over the years.
His wife also served as a much-needed source of support when Chapman was forced to handle the unimaginable on the job.
The loss of his partner and the death of a baby were the kinds of days that would make Chapman say to his wife: “I don’t want to be a cop anymore today.”
And every time he would talk with his wife so that the next day he could again put on his uniform and return to the job he loved.
“Talking gets you through the tough stuff,” he said. “And she has stood by me through the good times and the bad.”
Chapman has worked a variety of assignments in his career including SWAT, narcotics and special investigations.
He served as a sergeant for robbery-homicide, the gang unit, vice and narcotics, among others.
Chapman also was instrumental in shaping the department’s program for handling calls involving the mentally ill — an area of his law enforcement career shaped by his personal experience.
“I have a unique perspective in that I have family members who suffer from a mental illness,” Chapman said. “I know how a family member feels when they have someone in crisis and they’re panicking, and I know how it feels to be the officer that’s arriving on scene.”
Chapman partnered with the Orange County Health Care Agency to change the way law enforcement works with the mentally ill.
Westminster’s program, which began about 12 years ago, includes extended training for officers and using certified clinicians who respond with police to calls involving the mentally ill.
“We are way more understanding of the dynamics in handling mental illness,” he said. “We are much more patient and focus on de-escalation, which keeps everybody from getting hurt.”
Chapman has received awards from the Orange County Human Relations Commission and the Chamber of Commerce for his work setting the protocol of how the department handles such cases.
With a long list of achievements and accolades over the course of his career, Chapman will take his experience to lead the department’s patrol of the east side.
Chapman started as Eastside Commander in January and, since then, has been working to introduce himself to the community.
His area of command includes Little Saigon — an enclave rich in Vietnamese culture and home to the highest number of Vietnamese-Americans in the country.
“I just want to meet everyone I can and learn what their concerns are and what interests them,” he said. “I want people to know that we are accessible.”
In recent years, Little Saigon has seen a decline in Part I crimes, which includes robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and homicide — a trend attributed to a change in the way Westminster polices the area and utilizes crime data.
Officers are assigned sectors and actively patrol their areas, while crime tracking helps police plan their enforcement strategies.
“We take this real-time crime data and we identify any emerging trends and we get out in front of it and come up with solutions to stop it,” Chapman said.
Chapman said he plans to be a leader who engages the community to ensure crime rates continue on a downward trend, and who residents feel comfortable interacting with.
“Everybody wants safety, security and a responsive police department,” Chapman said. “They can call me anytime.”