Deputy Chief Jeff Blair was only 20 when starting out as a patrol officer for the Tustin Police Department.
At the time, Blair was the youngest sworn member of the department.
Thirty-one years later, Blair is calling it a career, after making an impact every step of the way and advancing through the ranks as an investigator, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and deputy chief.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of nationwide high-profile in-custody deaths and accompanying civil unrest, this is not the retirement Blair envisioned.
“I feel sad more than anything else under the circumstances,” the deputy chief said. “This was not my dream retirement to leave during a pandemic and during national and social unrest.”
“We’re on modified tactical alert and there is anti-police sentiment everywhere and you can see it on the faces of the cops. It’s weighing on them,” he said. “It’s still time for me to go. At the same time, I wish I were leaving under different circumstances.”
Blair said the Tustin Police Department has been on the cutting edge of transparency, progressiveness, and ethics, and has built a strong relationship with the community.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “My DNA is in the fabric of this agency… What you are seeing now in the media is something I have never seen in 31 years at Tustin PD.”
Tustin PD has the best relationship with the community of any department around, he said.
Before becoming a police officer, he was a trainer in a gym, where he became friendly with police officers who worked out there.
He was invited on some ride-alongs and “just had a blast,” he recalls.
Blair changed direction with his career and became “hooked on being a cop,” he said.
As is the case with all new officers, Blair started out in patrol.
He became a detective in investigations, was a field training officer, was the sergeant in charge of professional standards, the lieutenant commanding the south area, the captain in charge of operations and, in 1996, was one of four officers in Tustin’s first gang unit.
“It was the single most fun, most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Blair said of his time in the gang unit. “If you asked what impact I had on the Tustin community, I would say that it was in the five-year stretch in the gang unit.”
“Those were the hot years. Violent crimes and drive-by shootings were through the roof. We were just a bunch of hard-charging cops with a hard work ethic … it was the right guys at the right time,” he said.
From the gang unit, the opportunities just kept coming, he said.
Reflecting back, Blair said he is fulfilled, having accomplished every goal he set for himself and more.
“I never dreamed I would be in this position ever,” he said. “They say that success is where opportunity meets preparation. I didn’t have a master plan to become the deputy chief or a captain or even a lieutenant. I just worked hard and then the opportunities would open up.”
Blair said retiring is bittersweet. Every person he has worked with has had a positive impact on him in some manner and Blair said he wants to thank each one of them.
He also hopes he’s impacted their lives as positively as they’ve impacted his.
“Every one of them mattered to me,” Blair said. “I’ll miss them all.”