Raul Quezada, 44, was sworn in as chief on Wednesday, overseeing a largely white department in a city that is 53% Hispanic.
Raul Quezada, 44, was sworn in as chief on Wednesday, overseeing a largely white department in a city that is 53% Hispanic.

Story highlights

Chief Raul Quezada is the first Latino police chief in Anaheim's 157-year history

Quezada, 44, worked his way up the ranks from patrolman in 1996

He implements "Coffee With A Cop" to build community trust

Riots by Latinos erupted in 2012 after police fatally shot an unarmed Hispanic man

Anaheim, California CNN —  

Two years after Hispanics rioted against police in a city that Disneyland made famous, Anaheim, California, has hired the first Latino police chief in its 157-year history.

Raul Quezada, 44, was sworn in as chief on Wednesday, overseeing a police department that is 56% white in a city that is 53% Hispanic – and is still reeling from strife that grew out of police shootings of poor Latinos, including at least one resulting in death, sparking the riots.

Quezada acknowledges his daunting task. In 2012, two deadly police shootings in one summer weekend led to a protest outside City Hall, just 1½ miles from Disneyland, the city’s famous attraction. That protest turned violent and spread throughout the central city for four days.

Quezada, who worked his way up in the department after starting as a patrolman in 1996, will seek to regain the community’s trust through civil engagement, he said. Anaheim has a population of 336,000 and is also home to baseball’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and hockey’s Anaheim Ducks.

“We have to have an open dialogue,” Quezada said. “Last Saturday I worked with a patrol officer out in the field. I want them to see the police chief is out there along with the officers. That way the police officer sees the way the chief is working with the community, and that builds and fosters that mindset.”

One of Quezada’s programs is called “Coffee With A Cop,” where citizens “just ask any questions they want about any topic whatsoever,” Quezada said.

“We then answer, and the dialogue happens and then the relationship starts to form. And in my opinion that has released a lot of the stress,” he said.

He knows he has already made history in Anaheim.

“It’s very, very prideful for me for me to be able to sit in this capacity and to be the first Hispanic” police chief, he said.

Quezada was born and raised in Pico Rivera, California, which is outside the well-known Latino community of East Los Angeles and is about 17 miles northwest of Anaheim. He was a Los Angeles police officer for three years before joining the Anaheim force.

In the past 10 years, Anaheim has had 50 shootings involving police officers, and 22 people died in those shootings, said Lt. Tim Schmidt.

That track record worries longtime community leaders such as Amin David of a group called Los Amigos, who said he hopes the police department will improve its relationship with the Latino community.

“The shootings outraged our community,” David said of the 2012 violence. “There were demonstrations, and there is still a lot of hurt.”

In one of the 2012 fatal shootings that led to the riots, unarmed 25-year-old Manuel Diaz was shot in the back, and, after he fell, police shot him in the head and killed him, the family alleged in a lawsuit.

Police acknowledged Diaz was unarmed, but “based on the actions of Diaz during a foot pursuit, our officer believed Diaz was armed with a gun and posed an immediate threat,” police spokesman Tim Schmidt said. “The officer fired his weapon in response to that threat.”

In 2012, police also described Diaz as a gang member, but that characterization enraged the community.

The second shooting occurred when a man in a car theft case opened fire on police, authorities said. Officers returned fire, killing Joel Acevedo, 21.