Westminster PD welcomed five new employees in August — three recruits who recently graduated from the Golden West College Police Academy and two lateral hires who transferred from other agencies.
The new hires are part of the agency’s larger recruitment strategy emphasizing the need for more officers while setting the bar high in terms of the quality of employees. The three academy graduates were awarded honors for top recruit in the class, class chaplain and a character award. They were in the top 10 of their class.
“We swept the academy in awards,” said Acting Police Chief Mark Lauderback during the WPD employee swearing-in ceremony on the afternoon of Aug. 13.
He pointed out what it means for someone to receive the character award, which went to graduate and now-Officer Linh Han.
“[It] is an award that’s given to only one recruit that’s voted on by the members of the academy that showed and displayed the best character throughout the entire six months of the academy,” Lauderback told the room full of friends, family members and colleagues filling up a WPD conference room. “That’s huge for our organization and it’s huge for anybody.”
Commander Cameron Knauerhaze, who oversees the agency’s Professional Standards Unit, which handles hiring and new employees, told the audience that character is a big part of the agency’s recruitment process.
“We hire for attitude and character, and we train for skill,” he said, addressing the family members in the audience. “That character was long developed before they got here today and we owe that to you guys… I saw them in the academy at the best and worst moments of their life in there and I can tell you they are the cream of the crop.”
In addition to Han, Officer Bryce Burton also graduated from the academy — as top recruit — along with Officer Christian Cornelius, who was class chaplain.
“I have two goals for this job and that’s to come to work every day and do something to change the perception of officers,” Burton told Behind the Badge, adding that he saw the positive impact his own dad made as a police officer.
Han, who worked as a police aide at Westminster PD before entering the academy, also wants to make a difference.
“I was raised here,” said Han. “I want to give back to my community.”
Cornelius also worked as a WPD police aide before entering the academy. He said during those two years, he got to learn about working in law enforcement and about the agency. He said the WPD is very supportive of its officers.
“Looking really forward to working here and serving the community,” he said.
The agency also gained two new employees who transferred from other agencies, including Officer Chris Chavez and Dispatcher Casey Cline.
Chavez was previously at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. His reasoning for the move?
“It was the teamwork, the culture, the weather,” he said.
Cline said the WPD is closer to home for her and she’s familiar with the area.
“I personally like working behind-the-scenes doing what I can do to help the officers,” she said.
Knauerhaze told the audience that every city in Orange County is struggling with hiring right now.
“There are more people working at the In-N-Out Burger right now than most Orange County police agencies on patrol… There’s 15 people in there doing their thing, but right now we have about seven or eight cops out there holding the fiber of this city together,” he said. “That’s where that teamwork’s crucial.”
Knauerhaze told Behind the Badge that in addition to the focus on attitude and character for the agency’s recruitment efforts, the WPD is widening the pool. He recently made a trip to a police academy in Sacramento for recruitment and plans a trip to San Diego as well.
“We’re hiring up and down the state,” he said. “We’ve taken a really wide approach.”
Adding to the recruitment efforts is a $10,000 signing bonus to qualifying officers who transfer from another police department that the agency has been offering since 2017.
Lauderback told the audience that the Westminster PD is a great place to work.
“You can tell by the amount of people here today that have left their desks and put down all their work to come down and see our new employees get sworn in, you’re really coming into a family,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here to make the next 30 years the best 30 years of your life.”