One-on-One with…Director Melekian
On October 5, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Bernard K. Melekian as the newly appointed Director of the COPS Office. He officially started work on November 23, but while still packing up his long-time office at the Pasadena(California) Police Department, took the time to talk with Dispatch Editor-in-Chief Deborah Spence.
CP Dispatch: Community policing is not a new idea and many agencies would say they practice it, but it is still not the driving philosophy in many agencies. Why do you think that is?
Director Melekian: You are right, everyone says they do it, but how do they know? The challenge is to define it. Some say community policing is a project, others do many of the same activities but don’t even call it community policing. Going forward we need to do three things. First, define it. Second, identify the characteristics that make it portable from city X to city Y, whereby city Y can have the same successes. Third, make it sustainable. This means making community policing the way we all do business, not just the enterprise of a particular type of leader.
CP Dispatch: If it is hard for the profession to define community policing, it must be even more so for the average citizen. Do you think it is important to educate the public on community policing? How do you think it can be done?
Director Melekian: Ultimately community policing is about relationships. Relationships built on mutual respect. We tend to think of community policing sending information in a one- directional flow from the department to the community, and expect the police to understand the community culture. But the community needs to be able to share information with the police too, and to understand that the police department is also a community unto itself, a community with a culture. Citizen Police Academies are one hugely successful way that some agencies have made the relationship more bi-directional. Yes, police departments often talk about the benefit of these academies in providing the community with a human face for the department, but the agency also gets to put a human face on the community. We need more efforts like these where both sides learn from, and about, each other.
CP Dispatch: As I prepared for this interview, I noticed that you have often used the term “values-based policing.” What do you mean by this?
Director Melekian: I started working on this idea a few years ago. I see the success of policing hinging on two things. First, in order for police managers to ask officers to go out and treat citizens with respect, those officers need to be treated with that same respect inside the department. That doesn’t happen as much as we might think or want. Community policing needs to be applied inside the building as much as outside. Second, officers, day to day, need to learn to ask not, “can I do this,” but rather, “should I do this.” We need to train officers to not just be accountable to the law, but also to the mores and values of the community.
CP Dispatch: In addition to your many years of service with the Pasadena Police Department, you also served for a time as the Interim City Manager. Did that experience have an effect on how you understand community policing and the value of partnerships within government?
Director Melekian: That experience had a huge impact. I had already been working for many years in the municipal government at the police department, but was ultimately surprised at how little I knew about the city government outside of the police. Serving as the city manager helped me to see that the next step we need to talk about is where some cities have already started to go – to community governance. It is not just the police department that has the responsibility to identify and solve community problems. Other agencies are also crucial. Cleaning up neighborhoods, for example, might be partially about addressing crime, but there is ultimately also a public works component to be addressed as well.
CP Dispatch: Having spent most of your life on the West Coast, is there any thing in particular you are looking forward to about living and working in Washington, D.C.?
Director Melekian: This is going to be a life adventure. Washington is a fabulous city, and being offered the opportunity to live and work there, as well as the chance to explore the eastern seaboard, was intriguing. Ultimately, I plan to return to California, but this was not something to let pass by.
Bernard K. Melekian served as the Police Chief for the city of Pasadena since April 30, 1996. Prior to his appointment as Chief of Pasadena, he served with the Santa Monica Police Department for 23 years where he was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1978 and the Medal of Courage in 1980. In addition, he served as the Interim City Manager from January to September 2008. He has served as the President of the California Police Chiefs' Association and the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs' Association. He served on the National Board of Directors for the Police Executive Research Forum from 2002 until 2006, and is a senior advisor for the Police Assessment Resource Center in Los Angeles. He has been the recipient of numerous leadership and service awards, including the Anne B. Kennedy Award from the Pasadena Mental Health Association, the Salvation Army "Others" Award, and The Excellence in Leadership Award from Leadership Pasadena. In January 2005, he received the Lewis Hine Award for Service to Youth from the National Child Labor Committee and in May 2007 was awarded the Sherman Block Leadership Award from the California Peace Officers' Association. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the National Child Labor Committee.
Director Melekian holds a bachelor's degree in American History and a master's degree in Public Administration, both from California State University, Northridge. He is a graduate of the 150th session of the FBI National Academy and the 20th class of the California Command College, where he was selected as Class Speaker. He served in the United States Army from 1967 to 1970. As a member of the United States Coast Guard Reserve, he was called to active duty in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and served in Saudi Arabia. Director Melekian served a second tour of active duty in 2003 when he served for 8 months with the Coast Guard's Marine Safety and Security Team in the Pacific area. He retired from the Coast Guard Reserve in 2009 after 26 years of service.