LA MESA, Calif. – La Mesa’s Chief of Police Walt Vasquez, the city’s top law enforcement official for the past five years and a longtime local cop, will retire later this month, the department said Thursday.
Vasquez was sworn in as the East County city’s department’s top cop in April 2015 following a 29-year career with the San Diego Police Department. He was said to have delayed his retirement from the department to help the city navigate the coronavirus pandemic, earning praise from a peer for his “unwavering commitment to serving the people of La Mesa.”
He also was at the department’s helm this year as La Mesa — and the nation at-large — reckoned with police brutality against minority communities in the wake of the Memorial Day killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
In a statement, Vasquez said he and his officers have “worked very hard to keep the citizens of La Mesa safe.”
“The decrease in property and violent crimes in the City from 2015 to 2019 has been the largest decrease of all incorporated cities in San Diego County,” he said. “This is extraordinary, especially when you take into consideration that the La Mesa Police Department is one of the lower staffed departments in the County. Crime decreases of this nature are only achieved through hard work and collaboration with the citizens we serve.”
Of Vasquez, Chula Vista Chief of Police Roxana Kennedy said she’s “always admired him as a leader of unmatched integrity and compassion.”
“He is known throughout our county law enforcement community for being a leader who places community first by fostering community engagement, promoting problem-solving, and reducing crime,” Kennedy said.
La Mesa drew national attention earlier this year for a May 30 peaceful protest that turned violent downtown, leading to incidents of rioting, arson and looting. Although it came on the heels of Floyd’s death, many protesters called foul on the May 27 arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson, detained as he stood outside of an apartment complex near the Grossmont Transit Center.
Matt Dages, the officer who detained Johnson, no longer is employed by the city, the department announced last week.
The department also was criticized for an incident involving 59-year-old Leslie Furcron, a local woman who was shot in the head by an officer with a projectile during the May 30 protest against police brutality.
In the fallout, the department — like a handful of others in the area, including SDPD and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — unveiled a series of reforms, including banning use of the carotid restraint, also known as a “sleeper hold.” But departments nationwide still are feeling the heat to change the way they police communities with protesters in many cities calling to “defund” departments in favor of paying into other priority areas.
Numerous protests have been held in La Mesa and the county in the weeks and months following the May riot with few arrests and reported incidents of violence.
“Especially during these unprecedented times, Walt has shown what calm and steady leadership and an experienced leader can mean to a community,” Kennedy said.
According to a biography provided by the department, Vasquez began his career in 1986 as a SDPD officer, serving as a sergeant, lieutenant, captain and assistance chief with the department. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in business management and graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2007.
Vasquez’s retirement will take effect Aug. 27.