District gets new chief

Retired Riverside County Undersheriff Colleen Walker fills interim police chief position

Colleen LEAC

Photo courtesy of RCCD interim Police Chief Colleen Walker | The Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee honored Interim Chief Walker with Lifetime Achievement award in 2015.

Written by Crystal Olmedo

As the spring semester begins Riverside Community College District interim Police Chief  Colleen Walker is settling into her position and proposing changes that she believes will help the department go from “good to better.”

One of the most recent changes to the organization of the RCCD police is its integration into the Department of Risk Management.

Michael Simmons, director of Risk Management, now heads the administrative aspect of the police department and serves as its advocate to the chancellor and the Board of Trustees.

“It was a recommendation that the risk management department made to chancellor (Michael Burke) and (he) understood the relationship the two departments shared, and it was a natural and almost organic function to combine the two,” Simmons said. “I think it’s a great idea for the (police) department, risk management and the district.”

The Board of Trustees approved former RCCD Police Chief Jim Miyashiro’s retirement in November and he ended his employment in December, after having served 8 years with the district.

Walker enters the district after having served in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for 35 years. Despite her extensive experience in a municipal police setting, she said she is ready to learn the dynamic of policing a community college district.

“I’ll be the first to admit that even though I have a lot of experience I don’t know everything and it’s important to me that I hear from the people around me whether it be the officers, students or faculty about things they think we should do differently,” Walker said.

She began as a dispatcher and realized that she wanted to “be a part of the solution,” so she decided to take her husband’s advice to follow her dream of becoming an officer and graduated from the police academy in 1980.

“That was a time when women were very rare in the police force, something like one percent of the police force,” Walker said. “I’ve held almost every position you can hold all the way up to the under sheriff, the highest position that is not elected by the public. I supervised 4,200 people, with a budget of over half a million dollars and served the 7,000 square miles of Riverside County.”

One of the issues Walker says she hopes to address during her time with RCCD is a lack of staff for the police department to cover the three campuses and off site locations.

“We don’t have enough officers on the force,” Walker said. “I’m working on it, but it’s not going to change overnight.One of our officers is on bereavement, unfortunately, due to his wife being killed in the (Inland Regional Center) shootings in San Bernardino.”

Riverside City College film student Luis Quiñonez, 19, agrees with this idea.

“I see officers around campus and I feel safe,” Quiñonez said “But I do think that there could be more around.”

His brother Robert Quiñonez, 20, also an RCC student, said he feels safe with the amount of officers there are currently.

Another RCC student said she also feels safe on campus.

“I stay here until 7 p.m. for class and I feel safe. I think they’re doing a good job,” said Ashley Valenzuela, 19.

Walker says it is her practice to always be in uniform when on duty to “set the tone” for a safe environment.

“Anything I can to do be a force multiplier and increasing visibility of myself and other officers so that people will feel safer is important to me,” Walker said. ““Even putting officers on foot would help us to stay visible.”

She encourages students, staff and faculty to help, acting as the police department’s eyes and ears around campus.

“Tell us if there is something that doesn’t quite look right,” Walker said. “You can’t always worry about being politically correct. You may not have to necessarily call 911, but call the dispatch and report what you see.”

As well as visibility, Walker said she is working with RCC President Wolde-Ab Isaac to bring the locations of each division office of the department into one central area. As of last semester, parking services has been located in the parking structure while the rest of the police staff are located on the lower campus.

“During my first 100 days … I am trying to identify anything that I see as immediate needs that we have. Then identify what resources we need to put into play to get those things,” Walker said. “I’ve got a list of 29 different initiatives that I’m looking at from policies and procedures that are not as specific or not as up to date as I would like them to be, things that will protect the officer(s), protect the district and protect the public.”

She said she is pleasantly surprised with how welcoming everyone in the district has been to her.

Walker also mentioned how impressed she was by RCCD Board of Trustees President Virginia Blumenthal, for her achievements how she serves as an inspiration for female students.

Blumenthal, who reached out to Walker to fill the interim police chief position, shared similar sentiments about Walker.

“(Walker) is professional and she is just amazing,” Virginia Blumenthal, Board of Trustees president, said.

Walker’s position is limited to six months to one year.

“I didn’t take the position because I needed the money,” Walker said. “I’m a problem solver and I have a passion for this.”

In light of the recent shootings in San Bernardino, the district is taking measures to ensure the safety of the RCCD community.

“We will make sure that officers are trained and up to date in what to do if there is an active shooter on campus,” Blumenthal said.