Menifee’s new police Chief Pat Walsh is helping to lead the team as they open up their own police force July 1.
“Who gets to start a police department? It just doesn’t happen,” Walsh said. “When I got the job, I really had to think. The most important thing you’re going to build is culture.”
Walsh said that to build the desired culture, he needed the right people, did extensive backgrounds and trained them.
“The city manager and the city council agreed to allow me to hire my supervisors and my command staff three months before go live, and then all the rest of the employees two months before go live,” Walsh said.
Menifee District 2 councilmember Matt Liesemeyer has been one of the leading advocates on the city council to push forward the idea of Menifee’s own police department since 2014.
Liesemeyer said that while he helped, it wouldn’t have been possible without a team effort from the council and others who also believed in the project.
“From a council standpoint, we really didn’t start getting momentum in this until 2018 when we brought in our new city manager and he brought the idea forward to the council, and we went forward with the feasibility study,” Liesemeyer said.
The feasibility study was, according to Liesemeyer, “a good launchpad for the city staff to go from to continue the process.”
Several individuals alongside police officers and other agencies looked at the template of what having a police department might look like from Riverside County.
“The study was a starting point but I’ve created a completely different looking police department from what that study said,” Walsh said. “But you always have to start somewhere. There’s no playbook on how to do this.”
Part of creating a new police department meant going through an extensive training program.
“We had a doctor of psychology come in; he’s a combat vet,” Walsh said. “He did several tours of duty, has severe PTSD and moral injury, and he came and talked to us about moral injury.
“You know we talk about PTSD in America, but we don’t talk about the moral injury piece of it,” he said.
Walsh said it’s important to talk about it, to identify signs.
“Police officers kill themselves at an alarming rate, twice the amount of police officers kill themselves as are killed in line of duty every year,” Walsh said. “I just thought it was super important to be able to identify the symptoms and signs and to be able to see them in the people we contact in the street, because a lot of people out on the street are having that kind of trauma. We have that kind of trauma, and we can help each other. We can help our partners; we can help our community with that.”
They also had a full day of how to survive their career, including emotional survival with a renowned doctor, according to Walsh.
“Then we had a wellness day where a couple docs came in and talked about how to mentally, physically maintain yourself in the business,” Walsh said. “We’re doing a wellness program where we all had our blood taken and we’re being screened for everything, and then we’re going to have a doc sit down with each of us individually and say where we are healthwise and what our diets should be like and what our workout regimen should look like.”
Walsh said that they’ll be having a workout-on-duty program.
“It’s pretty unheard of; this is the second police department I’ve ever heard of doing it,” he said.
With all of that being said, Walsh is trying to take care of them physically, mentally and spiritually.
“You see what’s going on in the world, and we don’t want that to happen here,” he said.
Walsh is ready to open and move forward.
“I spent the bulk of my career in Portland, Oregon, and when I see what’s going on in Portland, it just breaks my heart, when I see what’s going on in Seattle I’m disgusted and when I see all these police officers shot and killed in these riots and run over by people on purpose, it’s just sad,” Walsh said. “Nobody is more angry about what happened to George Floyd than the police officers because we don’t do that, we don’t train like that.”
One of the trainings they had came from a retired officer who owns her own fitness and defensive tactics company.
“She came out and taught each of us, myself included, all the command staff on team tactics in defense. You see all the horrible force, and force never looks good,” Walsh said. “When you see officers striking somebody 10, 15, 20 times; well, if it didn’t work the first couple times, why keep hitting them?
“If you don’t have other tools you’re going to stay there and do that, so she gave us all kinds of pressure points and control holds and methods to get somebody pinned and wait for your backup, and so our force is going to look a little different and it’s going to look a lot less invasive, and hopefully we will never be on the 11 o’clock news,” Walsh said.
Walsh has also taken his team out to the range to get them qualified with their new guns and to teach them how to use the new computers they’ve purchased that the Murrieta Police Department is going to dispatch them.
“We’re down to 10 days before we go live and it’s just completely frantic over here, but we’re going to make it happen,” Walsh said.
Walsh and the team have already gained a lot of support. Liesemeyer had also put it out on his Facebook wall, encouraging people of Menifee to send in emails or letters to the council for the department.
“People are bringing in flowers and balloons and cards, enough food to feed an army, and a lot of support,” Walsh said. “I get emails all day long of support, and you know it’s helpful.
“We’re in solidarity with people protesting, but it seems like we’re the focal point of the protests. We’re getting lumped into one big category which is unfortunate because that’s just not the case, and so the support is really helpful,” he said.
The new police department has authorized 60 people on the force, including the police chief and his captain, lieutenants and sergeants.
“For police officers, there’s 44 of them, but right now we have 30 and we have 14 in background,” he said.
Liesemeyer encouraged people to help boost morale.
“We’re trying to upright a police department when everyone else is talking about defunding them and shutting them down,” Liesemeyer said.
Walsh said they are thinking about doing a grand opening in mid-September when life hopefully begins to return to normal.
On June 30, however, since the community can’t come out, they plan to go to them.
“We’re going to take every one of our police cars; we’re going to create six different parades, and we’re just going to go out into the community the night before,” Walsh said. “We start from about 7-8 p.m., and we’re just going to go through the entire city to say, ‘Hey, here we are; we’re your police.’”
Walsh plans on releasing maps and times for the community this week. Walsh and his team are excited.
“It’s just really amazing what we’re doing,” Liesemeyer said. “It’s unfortunate that what’s happening in our world today is happening at the same time we’re trying to open a police department.
“We’re really excited about going forward and creating something new in our city, and really setting a new tone,” he said.
For more information on Menifee’s new police department, visit https://menifeepolice.org.
Lexington Howe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.