After more than 30 years in law enforcement, Signal Hill Police Capt. Ron Mark is retiring to work full-time in higher education. But he won’t be too far away.
Mark, who is leaving the department next month, plans to stay involved in public service, only in a more behind-the-scenes role as director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research & Training at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
Sitting at his desk that now has a window view at the Signal Hill Police Department’s newly built headquarters, Mark told the Signal Tribune on Tuesday that his new position was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
“I went through the testing process and was fortunate enough to be appointed into the job,” he said. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. It doesn’t come up very often. The last guy was in there for 10 years, and he left because he was sick. It was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.”
First working for the Gardena Police Department for nearly 25 years, Mark climbed the ranks from cadet when he was 19 to police officer in 1984. He was promoted to sergeant five years later and then lieutenant in 2000.
In Gardena, Mark took on a wide range of duties, including working as field-training officer, staff instructor for the sheriff’s academy and SWAT team operator, supervisor and commander, among other positions.
In October 2006, Mark joined the Signal Hill Police Department as operations captain when the department had two captains. He later assumed responsibility for both captain positions after the department reorganized its staff.
For the past nearly seven years, the husband and father of two children worked many details and special assignments. He was also instrumental in helping the City to complete a disaster plan and in 2007 spearheaded a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training program.
That same year, Mark was heavily involved in reinstituting the police department’s Explorer program, which had been nonexistent for a number of years. He said some Explorers, who are 14 to 21 years old and are required to pass an academy-training program and other reviews, have transitioned to paid cadet positions in hopes of someday becoming a police officer.
“I think that’s something that has always been really, really important– to give back to the community,” Mark said. “It helps our youth and it then helps build our employees here. … When they’re young, we can help shape their work ethic. We can help get them to understand what public service is about, and, if they’re well qualified, we bring them on as police officers.”
While working as a part-time professor and lecturer at CSULB’s Department of Criminal Justice and at Concordia University for the past eight years, Mark helped to boost the Signal Hill Police Department’s college internship program. In fact, some cadets working at the police department today were once his students, he said.
As director of the university’s Center for Criminal Justice Research & Training, Mark said his new position will allow him to stay involved in public service and help with law-enforcement training.
The center offers a wide variety of instructional programs through Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and has trained over 36,000 law-enforcement personnel, including judges, criminal-justice scholars, practicing attorneys and law-enforcement practitioners.
Mark will be collaborating with a full-time professor at the university to conduct research on such topics as juvenile justice, crime prevention and law-enforcement management, he said.
“This gives me the opportunity to start figuring out the back side of it,” Mark said. “We do the ‘boots on the ground’ stuff on a daily basis, but what kind of research can we put into it? How do we reduce the crime rate? How do we keep kids on the right track?”
He also hopes to send college grads willing to receive work experience in crime analysis to the Signal Hill Police Department.
“We’ve got grad students over at Cal State Long Beach, and they’re itching to apply to train but they have no place to apply to,” Mark said. “That’s why I kind of want to bridge that gap and start bringing some graduate students here to look at crime analysis to try to figure out crime trends… Those are really important tools for law enforcement to try to predict crime and try to prevent crime. Frankly, we don’t have the personnel to do that.”
Mark added that he had planned to leave earlier but promised Signal Hill police and city officials to stay on until the City finished building its new police headquarters.
After the previous police chief and captain left the department, he was the last remaining top-ranking police official involved in original planning of the new, state-of-the-art, $18-million facility, which was completed in January, replacing a cramped, aging building that was nearly half its size.
Mark hailed Signal Hill’s city management and police staff as being among “the best” for which he’s ever worked, adding that Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston has not only been a “good boss but a good friend.”
Langston added, “A good man is hard to find. [Therefore] not what you see, it’s what you don’t see. Ron’s leadership was extremely important.”
Even though the police department and the City faced challenges over the last several years and during the economic downturn, they have survived it by maintaining tight budgets and lean staffs, Mark said.
Now, Mark’s departure comes as another senior sergeant and possibly others plan to retire soon, likely opening up vacant positions at the police department. Mark said he is comfortable his position will be easily filled.
“It’s been a good career,” he said. “It’s been a great experience. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great individuals. There’s a good team here. This police department really understands community-oriented policing, which is something I really enjoy and one of the reasons why I came here.”
On Thursday, June 20, the Signal Hill Police Department hosted a potluck lunch and farewell party for Mark. Co-workers and friends stopped by to congratulate him and give their best regards.
During the farewell party, Mark thanked his wife and children, as well as members of the police department. “The beat will go on,” he said. “This is family here.”