Flipping through the hand-written list on a pad stacked among three piles of employee rosters, Westminster Interim Police Chief Roy Campos notes the number: 106.
That’s the number of police employees Campos has logged face time with at the end of his first five weeks as the department’s new leader.
He met employees over coffee, out in the field, in the parking garage or sometimes in his office. On occasion, he also would stop employees in the hallway on his way to an early-morning, pre-shift workout.
However it happens, Campos said he needs to know every employee at the Westminster PD.
“To me, it’s essential,” he said. “If I’m going to be the leader of the department, believe me it’s an honor and I’m so proud to be asked to lead the Westminster PD, but I’ve got to know our people. I’m not doing it to just cross names off a list.”
Demonstrative with a casual cadence to his speech, Campos said he wants to make policing personal — the crux of a law enforcement philosophy the chief has forged in his nearly 40 years in law enforcement.
“We need to treat people with respect and dignity,” Campos said. “If we’re tight here, ultimately when we go to the community to do our work, that’s going to be healthier. We’re more apt to have empathy, to have patience. If we truly care about what we’re doing, it’s hard to muck it up.”
Campos said this ideology was ingrained in him long before he wore a badge.
Born in Compton as the second youngest of nine children, Campos said his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic and the importance of respect.
Serving the family name was a source of pride in the Campos home, and the chief carried that through his years in law enforcement.
“There are so many reasons we choose to do the right thing,” he said. “We have our police department to represent and our profession, but our family name is just as important. Whoever it was in our lives — our parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, coaches, teachers — we can’t let them down.”
Campos was attending Cerritos College when he saw a handwritten job posting on a 3×5 card soliciting for a police student worker with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The teen was hired to perform clerical duties in his role, including working in the office of police chief and law enforcement icon, Daryl F. Gates.
Gates, founder of the D.A.R.E. program and co-creator of SWAT, always would make sure to acknowledge Campos in the office — a small and simple gesture that resonated in a big way with the young Campos.
“That was my first exposure to the importance of treating people well in the workplace,” Campos said. “Here I was an 18-year-old kid and he calls me by my first name. I could barely even respond and just said, ‘Hello, sir.’”
That six-month internship with LAPD hooked Campos into a career as a peace officer.
He was hired in 1978 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he worked for about a year before lateraling to the Downey Police Department.
He served more than 30 years with Downey PD, and was tapped as the city’s eighth police chief in 2005. Campos led the department four years until he retired in 2009.
But the job continued to call to him.
Westminster PD marks Campos’ fourth assignment as an interim police chief in California.
“I feel it right here,” Campos said pointing to his chest. “There’s a buzz, there’s an excitement, there’s an energy when I get a call to serve as a chief of police. I’m proud of the outlook and philosophy I’ve developed through the years and I want to share it.”
He took his first seven-month interim chief job in 2010 with Signal Hill before being called by Irwindale PD in 2013.
In 2014, Campos was hired by Bell PD, where he served as interim chief until early 2015.
Campos started with Westminster in June, where he said his No. 1 priority is ensuring the department will find its next long-term leader.
“The person I’m going to leave Westminster PD with has to be the best candidate, with the highest quality caliber of character,” he said. “I’ve made an investment here 100 percent, total immersion. My title says interim chief, but there is nothing interim about my efforts.”
And while he’s here, he also hopes to impart some of the lessons he’s learned.
Campos has seen much evolution in policing from equipment to tactics, but said one of the greatest changes in law enforcement is in the way officers communicate — both within the department and out in the community.
Thirty years ago, communication was not seen as a necessary function of keeping the community safe, Campos said.
Orders were given, often without explanation, and officers followed.
In the field, the job got done, but if concerned community members inquired about why their street was being shut down or why crime scene tape was being wrapped around trees, it was likely met with a terse response along the lines of: “We’ve got it.”
“I think our officers now have a better understanding of human nature and our work,” Campos said. “Our supervisors know the value of not only giving an order but, time permitting, giving the reasons why. When we know why we’re doing something, I think we do it better. There’s an investment.
“And with the community now, we know they can help us and we are more apt to share information with the city and the community, and I think that’s healthy.”
And healthier policing is what Campos said he hopes to inspire at Westminster PD.
“If we do our job the right way with a positive attitude, I know it works,” he said. “It makes our workplace lighter, more fun, more united and when we go out in the community, it’s the safest police work.”