ANAHEIM, California (CNN) — Two years after Hispanics rioted against police in a city that Disneyland made famous, the city of 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 largely white police department 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 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 last 10 years, Anaheim has had 50 shootings involving a police officer, and 22 people died in those shootings, said Lt. Tim Schmidt.
That track record worries long-time community leaders such as Amin David of a group called Los Amigos, who 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, 25-year-old Manuel Diaz was unarmed and shot in the back, and when he fell, police shot him in the head and killed him, the family alleged in a lawsuit.
Police acknowledged Diaz was unarmed but said he was throwing objects at officers. 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 allegedly opened fire on police. Officers returned fire, killing him.