The Man Behind the Badge: A Chat With Reedley’s Chief of Police

Mar 9, 2019 | 2019 Articles, Community, Lorie Lewis Ham, Public Protectors, Reedley News, Tales of Diversity

by Lorie Lewis Ham

Have you ever wondered what a police chief does? We are doing a series of articles that is taking a look at many different parts of the City of Reedley and leaders in Reedley, to learn not only more about what they do, but also about who they are. This week we are chatting with Reedley’s Chief of Police Jose Luis Garza. He assumed leadership of the Reedley Police Department on March 13, 2012, after serving as Acting Chief of Police since April of 2011.

KRL: What has been your career path with law enforcement?

Chief Garza: My career in law enforcement began in the summer of 1983. It was the summer before I became an eighth grader when I was stopped by Dinuba PD Officer Art Johnson for riding my bicycle on the wrong side of the road. He conducted the stop not as an “enforcement” stop but rather as an “educational” stop. As we spoke, he mentioned the Dinuba Police Department was starting a Police Explorer program and spoke to me about the value of gaining insight into what a police officer does. I was intrigued and thought about looking into the program. However, I was only 13 years old and one of the requirements was that all applicants had to be 14 years old. Fortunately, I took a chance and submitted my application. At the time, the Advisors were Police Officer Art Johnson, Police Officer Bud Trimble and Sergeant Don Lane. After reviewing my application, I was accepted into the program although I was only 13 years old, which launched my career into law enforcement. As a Police Explorer, I rose through the ranks ultimately reaching the rank of Explorer Captain, the highest rank possible, capping off five years as a Police Explorer.

police department

Chief Garza

While a senior in high school, I was able to get a job as a parking enforcement officer and reserve police dispatcher with the Dinuba Police Department. I also was able to start the Reserve Police Academy, which I completed shortly after graduation from high school. Unfortunately, I was not given an opportunity to work for Dinuba Police Department as a police officer. However, I was not going to relent and had the opportunity to be going through the Reserve Police Academy with a Reedley Police Reserve Officer, Chuck Fisher, who became a good friend of mine and introduced me to the Reedley Police Department and the rest is history!

After applying with Reedley PD, 3 months after graduating from high school, I met with then Reedley Police Chief Forrest “Buddy” Brown who saw something in me and provided me an opportunity to be a police officer with his agency, although I was only 18 years. Starting off as a Reserve Police Officer, I completed the Field Training Program and became a Level 1 Reserve Police Officer working solo shifts either for pay but mostly for free. In 1989, after about one year, I was selected and sponsored by the Reedley Police Department to attend the full-time police academy. Upon completion of the Tulare-Kings regular police academy, I was hired as a full-time police officer.
Since 1989, I have worked as a solo police officer, a canine handler for five years (working two different police dogs “Alex” and “Cuervo”), promoted to Police Corporal and in 1997 promoted to the rank of Police Sergeant. In 2001, I was promoted to the rank of Police Lieutenant eventually being appointed to the position of Chief of Police in 2013. During my time I have served as a Field Training Officer, Canine Sergeant, member of the DUI Task Force, Department Use of Force Trainer, Police Explorer Advisor/Coordinator, member of the departments Tactical team, and have served/serving on various local and state boards.

KRL: I know you answered some of this already, but what kind of school/training did you have to have for the job?

Chief Garza: As a police officer, the training never ends regardless of what rank you hold. In my career, I have attended over 3,000 hours of professional trainings depending on what position I was holding. Those 3,000 hours represent documented training hours through the California Peace Office Standards of Training (POST) but do not include the hundred of hours of in-house trainings as a student or as an instructor.


Chief Garza speaking to students at a local school

In 2017, I was fortunate to be able to attend the FBI National Academy, which is a 10 week live in academy at the FBI training center in Virginia. During the academy, I participated in over 400 hours of instruction ranging from crime intelligence to physical education.

I am a strong proponent for continued training as it allows officers to stay current in a profession that is constantly changing.

KRL: Did you start out with a goal to be police chief some day?

Chief Garza: I did start out with a goal to be a police chief someday. When I applied with Reedley Police Department in 1988, I sat across the desk from then Police Chief Forrest “Buddy” Brown in what is known as the Chief’s Interview. During the interview Chief Brown asked me a series of questions relating to my background and asked the question, “what is your goal in law enforcement”? After providing him with my goals, I ended the conversation with, “Sir, my ultimate goal in law enforcement is to be sitting in your chair one day.” I remember him telling me, “pretty lofty goals for an 18-year-old.” I remember just smiling and nodding but also thinking did that statement make me sound “over confident” but instead it became prophetic. Twenty-five years later, I became the Chief of Police and am now sitting in the very same office that Chief Brown sat in and have the opportunity to ask prospective police officers the same question that was asked of me, “what is your goal in law enforcement.” Although, I don’t recall anyone saying that they want to be the Chief of Police.


Chief Garza speaking at Reedley College

KRL: What do you like best about your job?

Chief Garza: The best part of my job is knowing that I have the opportunity to make someone else’s life just a little better. True, most encounters with law enforcement are when folks are having a bad day. Maybe, they are the victims of a crime, the suspect of crime or just simply stopped for a traffic violation. But I know that I can affect the outcome simply based on what I say and how I treat them and turn a negative contact into a positive.
The other part I enjoy about being a police officer, but it mostly goes unnoticed or underappreciated, is that we save lives every day. Sure, how we save lives will most often not be found on the front page of a newspaper nor will it lead the evening news. But the truth is every day we are saving a life! Think about that person who changed their driving habits because of a traffic citation, the drunk driver who was taken off the street before they plowed into an innocent person, or the person who decided not to commit a robbery because they happened to see a police car nearby. We don’t take credit for all of this and pat ourselves on the back and expect accolades but even the smallest things a police officer does saves a life. Most will never experience this feeling but as police officer, you find this to be one of the best parts of your job.

KRL: What is a typical day on the job like for you and what all does a police chief do?

Chief Garza: Some may say when you’re at the top life is easy…. Not so as the Police Chief. The day is unpredictable as a police department operates 24/7 and anything can happen from the end of my day to the start of my next day. Mornings usually start with a review of the daily dispatch log keeping up to the daily activity of all calls for service over the past 24 hours. Emails and voicemails are checked, and responses provided. Once those tasks are completed then its off to checking in with both Division Commanders to get updates on investigations, personnel issues or sometimes just to talk about life in general as to maintain the personal relationships that are vital in an any organization. Acknowledging employees daily is important and I try to make my rounds throughout the department and saying good morning to officers and office staff. police

Each day, although unique, is usually filled with meetings, receiving emails or phone calls. Although I am still a police officer at heart my focus as Chief of Police is more administrative in nature. All organizations have roles for individuals within those organizations and my role is to lead a department of dedicated people who choose to serve this community.

KRL: What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments so far as chief?

Chief Garza: The greatest accomplishment to date has been the ability to lead a police department of dedicated professionals all with one goal in mind to serve our community. However, since being appointed as the Chief of Police, the department has been nominated and received the following recognitions:

• 2014 – Recipients of the James Q Wilson Award for Excellence in Community Oriented Policing.
• 2014 – Recipients of the Central California Legal Services “Champions of Justice”
• 2015 – Recipients of the Helen Putnam award for “Excellence in Public Safety”
• 2015 – Recipients of the 2015 Fresno First 5 Child Friendly Business Award

KRL: Future goals for the department?

Chief Garza: The Reedley Police Department has always had a tradition of service and my goal is to continue providing quality service to Reedley. Although the future is always uncertain, especially in law enforcement, the Reedley Police Department will strive to meet the demands of the community and remain flexible in our approach to community issues as they arise.

To grow as a department, we must continuously evolve programs that have proven to be successful. Those programs include the Reedley Peace Building Initiative (RPBI), Intelligence Led Policing (Criminal Analytics) and Explorer Program to name a few.


Chief Garza speaking to a Neighborhood Watch Group

KRL: Anything that you would like to add?

Chief Garza: I am a very fortunate and proud that I was born into a farm laborer/migrant family. My parent’s life began like most young Hispanics of their times. They were both immigrants into this country and finally settled in Dinuba, California, via the State of Texas and worked as field laborers.

As they began to form their family, their responsibilities grew which caused them to work longer hours to be able to provide for their family. I remember as a young boy having to join my brothers as we helped our parents in the fields during the summer break, after school, and even during Christmas break. At that time, we saw this as hard work, but upon reflection, I know I can speak for my brothers by stating that we were provided a strong work ethic and the experience of having to provide for your family.

My Mother’s greatest accomplishment was when she received her GED. My Fathers greatest accomplishment was when he became a citizen of the United States. Although my Father speaks very little English, he was able to instill into his sons the work ethic, devotion to family, and ability to succeed that we now possess.

Although we did not have a law enforcement influence in our family, six of nine Garza boys went on to careers in law enforcement. Two brothers work for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office-one as a Lieutenant and the other as a Deputy–one brother works for Fresno Police Department, one brother is a Police Sergeant with Selma Police Department, and one brother works for Sanger Police Department. For my remaining three brothers, one works for the Cal State Sacramento, one is a general handy man, and the youngest of my brothers is a Pastor. police

My Parents are not people who brag about the success of their sons, as raising nine successful boys is an accomplishment. But they remain very humble and true to their religious belief that “good things come to those who wait.” I know that I speak for the rest of my brothers when I say that we owe them much more than this nomination, but we know that our continued success will be thanks enough for them.

We thank Chief Garza for taking the time to chat with us. You can find more of this series in the Community section of KRL. We have spoken with the Chamber of Commerce, and the Reedley City Manager so far, if there is anyone related to the city that you would like us to talk to mention it in the comments below.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.


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