Meet La Mesa’s new police chief

Local

LA MESA, Calif. — After an 8-month search, La Mesa Police Department has landed on a familiar face for their next top cop.

Ray Sweeney, 53, has been with the department for twenty years, starting on patrol back in 2001. Over the years, he quickly climbed the ranks, getting promoted to captain in 2015. If anyone knows the city of La Mesa, it’s Sweeney, who has also raised three kids in the community.

The new captain and those who lobbied for him to get the job see that depth of local experience as a major plus, but some members of the community saw the hire as a missed opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective.

“Often times we look to people who have been in a long time, and often times, those people are the most biased people,” said a local who called in to a public Zoom meeting last December.

The call was part of the public process to select the next chief. The city said it wanted to be transparent in the wake of protests and riots that started in May 2020 after body camera footage showed a La Mesa officer pushing a Black man onto a bench during a rough arrest that led to his firing.

The unrest came amid a summer of protest across San Diego and nationwide, with demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement calling for meaningful reforms to policing, especially surrounding how officers interact with people of color.

After former Chief Walt Vasquez stepped down Aug. 27, La Mesa’s search narrowed to two dozen potential replacements, including six Black, five Hispanic and one female candidate, the department said.

In the end, Sweeney got the job. He says he’s the right man for it.

“It’s a lot, but I’m ready to hit the ground running,” Sweeney told FOX 5.

“A new police chief that comes in usually takes about a year to get to know that city and agency,” he continued. “I’ve known this city for 20-plus years. We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to waste.”

He may just be settling in, but Sweeney said he’s already aware of some of his toughest challenges.

“Rebuilding public trust, keeping the morals of the officers high,” he said. “I’m all about trying new things.”

In addition to a new chief, the city also recently approved a Community Police Oversight Board.

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