By Nick Diamantides
Roy Campos is enjoying his stint as the interim chief of the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD). A little more than three weeks ago, the Signal Hill City Council unanimously agreed to hire Campos to replace former Chief Tom Sonoff, who had resigned to become chief of the La Habra Police Department.
“When the City of Signal Hill contacted me to ask if I would be willing to become interim chief until a permanent chief is hired, I felt very honored,” Campos said. “In the law-enforcement community, the SHPD has one of the best reputations in all of Southern California.”
Campos began his career in law enforcement in 1977 as a police student worker for the Los Angeles Police Department while earning his degree in criminology. Later, he worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before the Downey Police Department hired him as a patrol officer in 1979. Continuing his education, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1985 and a master’s degree in public administration in 1989 from Cal State University, Long Beach.
He stayed with the Downey Police Department for more than 30 years, advancing through the ranks to become its chief. He served in that position for four years before retiring in December 2009.
“Downey has about 120 sworn police officers, and when you add the civilian employees, it has about 225 people on staff,” he said. “The city has a population of around 115,000.”
Signal Hill has a population of just fewer than 11,000. The SHPD has about 37 sworn officers and about 13 civilian employees.
Campos said that, although Signal Hill is considerably smaller than Downey, his approach to running the police department will remain the same. “My number-one mission for this city is to maintain and ensure the public trust,” he said. “We’ve seen the public trust destroyed in Bell and other cities where there has been corruption and mismanagement, and I want to make sure that the residents of Signal Hill keep trusting their police department and their city as they have for many years.”
Furthermore, Campos said he wants to keep the police department functioning as smoothly as it did during the years that Sonoff was chief. “We’ve got to create the safest city that is possible,” he said. “The residents, the businesses look to us to keep the city safe, and that is what we do.”
According to Campos, an important part of keeping the city safe is for the police department to always have open, respectful communication with the public. “I want to be sure that all of the employees of the Signal Hill Police Department– not just the sworn officers, but the civilian employees as well– treat people with respect,” he said. “Whether it’s an officer on patrol, or the dispatcher on the phone, or the records clerk at the window, and whether they are talking with a victim, a witness or a suspect, they must always treat people with respect and dignity. That can go a long way in helping the police department and the community meld and understand each other.”
Campos said that, in the short time he has been interim chief, he has not had time to pore over local crime statistics, but he has noticed that auto burglaries and auto thefts currently seem to be the most common crimes in Signal Hill. “Signal Hill is a tremendously safe city, and that is because our officers and civilian employees work very hard,” he said. “It’s also a reflection of Tom Sonoff’s leadership.”
Campos also praised the City Council and city manager for their many years of strong support for the SHPD, and he stressed that, without that support. the department could not be nearly as effective as it is. “Even the public works department helps control crime by removing graffiti quickly so that it doesn’t mount and fester,” he said. “The community services department also helps with all the youth programs and activities that keep youngsters from ever getting started in criminal activities in the first place.”
Campos said his impression of Signal Hill is that it is a tightly knit community where people look out for each other, which also helps keep crime down. “We get reports from people telling us about suspicious activity,” he said. “We take all those reports very seriously and dispatch our officers to check them out.” He added that he hopes even more people will take the time to call the police when they see what looks like a possible crime in progress.
The interim chief also noted that he has been well received by the members of the City Council, the city manager and all department heads. “I am feeling that they have confidence in me and, by golly, I am going to give them and this city nothing but my best, 100-percent effort,” he said.
Campos said that for the past three weeks he has been taking the time to individually meet with every officer and every civilian employee of the SHPD. “I wanted to meet all of them one-on-one, shake their hand and look them in the eye,” he said. “There is no way I can ask my people to treat the public with respect and dignity if I don’t first treat all the employees with respect and dignity. That’s why I am taking the time to talk to each one of our employees.”
The City of Signal Hill is in the early stages of recruiting for a new police chief. Campos said he will probably serve as interim chief until mid-April of 2011. “I am honored to serve as interim chief until a permanent replacement for Tom Sonoff is found,” he said. “It’s really a privilege to be part of a team of such hard-working people.”
Campos lives in the city of Walnut with his wife, Jeanie. They have two adult children: Marisa, 24, and Michael, 23.