Jason Salazar is chief of police in the city of Visalia, a community of 138,000 in California’s Central Valley. He and his wife, Christy, and their two daughters have been part of Neighborhood Church in Visalia for 18 years. Though his days are full with managing a staff of 251 and listening to the concerns of people in his community, Jason took a few minutes to talk about his role.
You came to your role from within the ranks of the Visalia Police Department.
Yes, I’ve been serving with the department for 26 years. I like to learn and grow and have taken promotions along the way. In February it will be 5 years that I’ve been serving as chief. I feel fortunate to be able to stay here and serve here in my home community.
Many communities in the U.S. are experiencing great conflict with their police departments. What has been your experience in Visalia?
We are blessed with a community that supports us. Our focus is to be community-oriented, working with other partners to ensure public safety. We have a role to enforce laws and fight crime, but our role is much bigger than that. We work closely with other community partners like schools and hospitals on long-term solutions rather than just enforcement, focus on quality staff and developing strong community relationships.
How does Neighborhood Church connect with your work?
At least 10 officers in my department attend Neighborhood. The church’s vision is to be FOR Visalia. About 10 years ago, the city was experiencing a great deal of gang violence. Some of the Neighborhood staff approached me and asked about the needs of the community in a particular area. We talked about the importance of impacting the lives of our youth, and the church ran with it. They adopted a local elementary school, and because of their work and other community partners, we’ve seen drastic reductions in gang violence there.
What role does your faith play in your work?
This can be a difficult job, both in my current role and also for officers at the line level. You see the difficult realities of life and society. My faith keeps me rooted in the fact that there’s a God out there working for the good. That reality corrects my course to focus on what we are for, not what we’re fighting against and always helps to keep perspective.
What can Christians learn from people working in law enforcement?
You’ve got to get out of the pews to make a difference. For example, churches might hand out meals to the homeless, but officers who deal with homelessness day in and day out know that it’s about relationships and building a community of support that truly makes the difference.
To hear the testimony of a Christian officer on Chief Salazar’s homelessness team, go to Facebook https:// www.facebook.com/visaliapd/videos/661078677701861/