Westminster Deputy Chief retires, sort of


It may not seem like much has changed at the Westminster Police Department, but Deputy Chief Darin Upstill has officially become a short-timer.

On July 15, the 51-year-old police veteran officially retired after 28½ years in law enforcement. However, the ink hadn’t dried, nor had his desk been cleared, before Upstill was back on the job.

As a “retired annuitant,” for the purposes of pensions and other employee classifications, Upstill was able to sign on for another 960 hours of employment. That will carry him until January, when promotions and new assignments will be announced.

“I’m here as long as they need me,” said Upstill, who is in no hurry to move into the great unknown of retirement. When that happens, Upstill talks vaguely of consulting. He’d also like to get back into coaching football and maybe teaching. In the meantime, he can concentrate on clicking off his 960 hours.

Westminster Police Deputy Chief Darin Upstill talks about his upcoming retirement.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

His father’s footsteps

Joining the Westminster Police Department in 1999 was like going into the family business for Upstill. His dad, Patrick, was a 27-year employee and narcotics detective before retiring in 1997, two years before Upstill joined the department.

Patrick Upstill took a very different retirement route from his son, however, joining the Peace Corps and living in Costa Rica while taking advantage of the country’s legendary surf breaks when the opportunities arose. It was the earlier stories Patrick had told his son through the years that stuck.

Regaled with tales of life in law enforcement, the younger Upstill said by the time he was in kindergarten he knew he wanted to follow his father’s path.

“I grew up around it,” Upstill said of policing and the Westminster Police Department, where he was around — and sometimes in the middle of — the action.

Westminster PD Deputy Chief Darin Upstill in a photo from 2017.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

As a 13-year-old, Upstill was on a ridealong with his dad when they became involved in a pursuit.

In 1992, Upstill became an intern with the Westminster Police Department. In 1994, while interning, he fingered a white supremacist gangster sought in the strong-arm robbery of a pizza delivery man. Upstill, who was working with the detectives bureau and had seen a photo of the suspect, was at home watching a live episode of Geraldo with Geraldo Rivera featuring a panel of gangsters.

”I looked in the audience and said, ‘That’s the guy that was ID’d,’” he recalls.

Upstill called the Westminster detective working the case, Mike Proctor, saying, “This may sound crazy…” LAPD was called and the suspected robber was arrested at the TV station after the taping.

Westminster Police Deputy Chief Darin Upstill talks about his upcoming retirement.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Also around that time Upstill was carjacked in Westminster and had a sawed-off shotgun jammed in his throat. Not long after, he was hit by a drunk driver.

About all those occurrences in a short time period, Upstill said, “It just reinforced the idea that I wanted to be a police officer.”

Setting his own standard

Beyond the legacy factor, Upstill, who graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Academy and spent the first five years of his career with LAPD, said he was drawn to Westminster by the smaller family atmosphere and the opportunities to work on a variety of assignments. For a guy whose life had revolved around the department it was like coming home.

Upstill has climbed steadily within the Westminster Police Department; however, he says his promotions were more a product of happenstance than plan.

Westminster Deputy Chief Darin Upstill was a Commander in 2019 when he spoke to local residents about public safety during a neighborhood watch meeting at Eastwood Elementary.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

After making the jump to sergeant in November 2005, Upstill said, “I was very content,” adding that it is the job that “has the biggest influence over the officers.”

Eventually, Upstill wanted to challenge himself and pushed forward. In 2017, he was elevated to commander and, in 2020, to become one of the department’s two Deputy Chiefs.

Although he could have applied to become chief after Westminster Police Department veteran Mark Lauderback left the post, Upstill said he had other priorities.

“I knew that position takes so much time,” Upstill said of being chief. “My kids were going into high school and college. My big priority was seeing my kids and watching them play sports. You can never go back in time.”

Officer Steven Vo, left, is recognized with the 10851 Award (auto theft award) from Deputy Chief Darin Upstill during Westminster Police Department’s 2019 and 2020 Promotions Ceremony.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Throughout his career, Upstill has served in a wide breadth of capacities. The most exciting was in narcotics as an officer and later as unit supervisor, operating undercover, and conducting late-night surveillance at the forefront of the war on drugs and gangs.

As a seven-year member of the West County SWAT Team, Upstill served as both an entry team leader and supervisor.  In 2005, he was awarded the department’s Medal of Valor in 2005 for an incident during a SWAT standoff in Westminster.

Upstill was part of a team trying to break into a house through a bedroom when the barricaded man came out of hiding and started firing at officers. Upstill moved in front of a fellow officer, who Upstill thought had been shot. In an exchange of gunfire involving several police, the man was shot and killed.

Carrie Richard, whose husband, Westminster Police Sgt. Tom Richard, committed suicide in 2013, shares a light moment with friends, Westminster Police Department Deputy Chief Darin Upstill, left, and Commander Cord Vandergrift, before the start of a dedication ceremony at the police department to raise Mental Health Awareness in 2023.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Upstill said one of the more rewarding aspects of his career has been as an instructor at the Golden West College Police Academy. Although his elevation to Deputy Chief in 2020 and its added responsibilities drew Upstill away from the Academy, he hopes to return to teaching.

Upstill taught courses in narcotics and physical fitness training. He was also a recruit training officer for a time – the ones who conduct inspections and dispense discipline, often in high decibels in students’ faces.

“Yeah, that was good. That was fun,” Upstill says with a laugh.

Westminster Police Department Commander Ron Weber, left, with Police Chief Darin Lenyi, Commander Scott Gump and Deputy Chief Darin Upstill at the Cops and Robbins ice cream public gathering in 2022.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Upstill estimates up to 30 or 40 of the officers he taught at Golden West College have passed through Westminster Police Department at one time or another.

Asked about his memories with the Westminster Police Department, Upstill brings up a kaleidoscope gathered over the years.

“Looking back, just starting with the stories my dad told me to the day when I started,” he says, “Just the transformation from the old department, looking back over 30 to 40 years and hopefully making a difference.”

Keynote Speaker Pat Upstill talks about his experiences in law enforcement during Westminster Police Department’s Memorial Ceremony in 2019.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge