OCEANSIDE — Accountability, training and building the public’s trust in law enforcement are some of the top priorities of new Oceanside Police Chief Fred Armijo has for the department.
On March 11, City Manager Deanna Lorson announced that Armijo was taking over as Oceanside’s 19th police chief. Armijo was selected followed months of “extensive community outreach” that included interviews with community leaders as well as a citywide survey of residents regarding neighborhood safety and public safety priorities.
Four panels comprised of community members, people with policing expertise and the head of departments considered a “competitive field of candidates throughout the state and provided feedback” to Lorson.
“Through this highly competitive process, Armijo emerged as the top contender with the panels recognizing that he brings unique strengths and perspectives that are extremely valuable as he serves in this key role in our community,” Lorson said in the city’s announcement about Armijo.
Armijo was serving as the city’s Interim Police Chief since December after previous Chief Frank McCoy retired. Armijo now leads 314 employees and manages the department’s $66 million annual operating budget.
Armijo is an Oceanside native, first graduating from Oceanside High School and later from the FBI National Academy, Senior Management Institute for Police and the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute.
He was first hired by the city as a lifeguard in 1989 then was later sworn in as a police officer in 1994. From there, he was promoted to Sergeant, Lieutenant and then-Police Captain in 2011. As Captain, he directed the department’s support operations, investigations and patrol divisions.
Armijo is also a member of the North San Diego County NAACP and serves on the Board of Directors for Oceanside Promise.
“Chief Armijo is a leader who embraces continuous improvement, community policing and a commitment to servicing and protecting all of our citizens.”
Mayor Esther Sanchez also praised Armijo.
“Chief Armijo truly appreciates our diverse community, its cultural neighborhoods and families,” Sanchez said in the announcement. “His community orientation and thorough knowledge of the police department make him an excellent choice to lead our department into the future.”
Though Pastor Jason Coker of the Oceanside Sanctuary did not participate in the community panels that reviewed the police chief candidates, he has heard many good things about Armijo.
“I have heard nothing but good things about him from members of this community — he is clearly well-liked and well respected,” Coker said.
Coker had pushed back against the city manager’s original intentions of only choosing an internal candidate rather than opening the search up nationwide. The search was later opened to both internal and external candidates.
Though the police department has come a long way over the years, according to Coker, a “deep level of distrust for the police” remains among communities of color and homeless people.
“That reality was completely ignored by the outgoing Chief and is still being ignored by current members of the City Council,” Coker said. “I sincerely hope that Chief Armijo has the courage to face those challenges and I look forward to working with him to address those very serious challenges.”
Armijo said his focus on accountability, training and a sense of community is the department’s way forward with meeting its goal to build a sense of trust among all community members.
“I think we have a lot of great people that are doing great work but I’m going to push people to do even better,” Armijo said. “In order for me to have that expectation of them, I’ve got to give them the right tools to do that.”
For example, the department was previously under an annual training model where officers would go back to training for a week at a time. The problem with that model, the new chief explained, is much of that time is focused on refreshing the police officers on things they previously learned rather than adding onto their knowledge and skills with new information.
Instead, Armijo would like to see training for officers on a quarterly basis rather than an annual one.
Armijo also wants to create more robust reporting of situations involving police officers to be shared with the community. Besides crime and arrest statistics, the reports would include more information about the use of force complaints and arrest demographics and would be easily accessible on the city’s website.
“For example, we could make a pie chart that would show the demographics of the persons we use force against, and that would be a great visual using real-time data,” Armijo said, noting that he would like to see such a report come out on a monthly basis.
The new chief also wants to boost the number of police officers the city currently employs.
“We’ve been hovering around 12 to 16 vacant police officer positions for the last several years,” he said.
He also wants to conduct a thorough analysis of the department to determine its efficiencies and inefficiencies, which may lead to realigning the officers’ beats.
“As a city, we’ve grown so much over the last 20 years but we’ve not realigned our beats in that time,” he said.
He also wants to unite the very spread-out police department and get out of its current headquarters, something that is long overdue.
“We’re in year 22 of our 10-year temporary facility,” Armijo said.
Addressing concerns about the potential continuation of the department’s previous administration, Armijo explained his approach to things is different.
“This is not intended to be disrespectful in any way, but I’m a different person than the former chief,” he said. “I have different ideas and priorities that I want to accomplish.”