In his first week at the Oakdale Police Department, newly appointed Police Chief Scott Heller hit the ground running, meeting with city officials, department staff, and members of the Oakdale community in his first few days on the job.
The 20-year police veteran, and former police chief of Placerville, had his first day on the job Friday, Oct. 28 after being named Oakdale’s new chief of police by the city council on Oct. 17.
“Being new to the department, I plan on doing a lot of observing,” Heller, 45, said. “Everything I’ve seen shows we have very good personnel. I’ll be taking stock of the department and assessing our strengths and weaknesses.”
Heller, who spent 17 years at the Modesto Police Department where he rose to the rank of lieutenant, said he felt welcomed when he arrived and the environment “felt like coming home.”
Prior to getting hired into police work, Heller served in the military and served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After his discharge he completed his BA degree at California State University, Stanislaus.
“Having been in this area for the majority of my career, I saw this move (to Oakdale PD) as a unique opportunity and jumped on it,” Heller said. “I have family and friends here that make it an easy transition.”
One department modification, body worn cameras, are on the horizon for the 22-sworn member department and should be introduced within a few weeks.
It’s a change that Heller viewed as a positive that allows for transparency, encouraging all involved in police contacts to be on their best behavior.
Variations of staff training is another adaptation Heller will attempt to implement so that not only state mandated and in-service training is offered to staff, but also taking advantage of webinars and partnering with allied agencies to develop officers.
Heller said he would not be making changes for the sake of making change.
One of the new chief’s initial focuses for the department will be the quality of life issues for the residents; partnering with the community to enhance the department’s quality of service.
“Studies show that communities that have a high level of participation and a high level of engagement have a lower level of crime,” Heller said.
To assist with his goal of community partnership, Heller said he plans to take advantage of and expand the department’s use of social media.
“It increases community engagement and allows two way conversations,” Heller said.
Other outreaches to the community may also include a citizen’s academy, similar to what he initiated in Placerville.
“It’s a great way for residents to gain insight to the community,” Heller said.
Heller said he was aware of some of the concerns of members of the community, notably in the area of the city’s vagrancy and gang issues, especially since a gang shooting had occurred less than 12 hours earlier. (See related story in this issue.)
Heller hopes to combat the gang problem with a combination of intervention and enforcement.
“If we can intervene – using our SRO, school staff, and youth programs – that will go a long way as an option to prevent some of this gang violence,” Heller said. “We will also have a measured response and increased enforcement as an option too.”
Regarding local transients, Heller said law enforcement was just one piece, adding that resources offered through partnerships with mental health, veteran, religious, and service organizations were key in dealing with the issue.
“The focus isn’t whether or not the person has a home,” Heller said, “but whether they’re behaving within community standards.”
In his position as Oakdale’s new police chief, Heller will oversee a staff of over 30 employees with a budget of roughly $4.9 million.