(M. Terry/SFVS) Members of the San Fernando Police Department celebrate the swearing-in of new Chief Fabian Valdez (center, middle row)

Former San Gabriel police Capt. Fabian Valdez was officially sworn in as the next Chief of the San Fernando Police Department during the City Council meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Valdez becomes the 34th police chief in the city’s history. He takes over for Tony Vairo, who retired in December after working 39 years in the department. Vairo became the SFPD Police Chief in 2015.

Following the oath of office administered by City Clerk Julia Fritz, Valdez had his Chief’s badge pinned on by his son Fabian Jr., who is a police officer in Placentia, Orange County.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” Valdez said after the brief ceremony, which was viewed by his family and friends from other police departments in Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties, as well as more than 20 officers from the San Fernando Department. 

“I cannot thank you enough for the trust you have bestowed on me, and the trust the San Fernando Community has given me,” Valdez said. “I think we’re at a point now where San Fernando and the San Fernando Police Department is ready for the next evolution in [the department]. I was thinking back to the amount of support San Fernando has for its police department. I’ve been sharing that with members of the organization today; that it’s something we can’t take for granted and what we have to do is strengthen it.”

Valdez has worked in law enforcement for more than 23 years, spending his entire career with the San Gabriel Police Department. He served at every rank within the department there — police officer, School Resource Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain. He was promoted to Captain in 2018. He also served as president of the San Gabriel Police Officers Association.

His first day as the San Fernando Police Chief was Tuesday. 

San Fernando City Council members in attendance — Mayor Mary Mendoza, and Councilmembers Sylvia Ballin and Celeste Rodriguez — offered praise for Valdez’s hiring.

“Based on your qualifications, I believe you will have a positive influence on our city,” Mendoza said.

Rodriguez added, “It’s clear you have a passion for this work, and you’re going to move forward with a focus on collaboration, which is a key to success in this role. We are very excited to have you on board.”

Ballin included an interesting quip at the end of her remarks.

“I have a lot of confidence that you’re going to do a great job, and that you have a great team to support you. One piece of advice that I will give you — if you sneeze we’re gonna hear about it in 10 seconds. Just letting you know.”

Of course, now the real work is just starting. Valdez inherits a department that has come under increased scrutiny and criticism for use of deadly force — including the fatal shootings of resident Guillermo Amezcua in April last year and Albert Garcia in 2017. He will also begin under a microscope from his own department as officers see and react to any new policies and directives Valdez institutes; how he handles complex situations; and his interaction with community residents who may consider him an outsider.

Valdez, who spoke briefly with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol after being sworn in, said, “ultimately it’s about relationships with the community members” that can create a respectful working relationship with officers and the public. 

“It’s about establishing, building and strengthening [those] relationships,” he said. “The [department] patches we have on our shoulders represent a community that is compassionate, but at the same time will not tolerate crime. So you have my commitment that the members of the [department] are here to serve. And we will serve humbly, and we will do our best to make the San Fernando Police Department the best department in the world.

“We’re gonna be ‘that’ community — the community people look up to, and recognize as the model community for modern policing. That is my goal,” he said.