The badge is new and very shiny, but newly sworn-in Placerville Police Chief Scott Heller has plenty of experience. After almost 17 years with the Modesto Police Department in a wide variety of positions, from patrol officer to assistant Investigative Services Division commander and acting commander, Heller brings Placerville leadership and expertise with special operations units involved with narcotics, gangs, homicides and shootings.
The 42-year-old chief met with the Mountain Democrat to talk about his focus for his new position, the community and why he chose to come to Placerville.
“What drew us here was actually a brochure with the police chief posting,” said Heller. The brochure showed a picture of downtown and the Belltower and described Placerville as a real home town. “It caught my attention. I wasn’t looking to leave Modesto, but we came up here to look at Placerville and loved the central location for activities, the family centric atmosphere. The community made a great first impression — the businesses and restaurants were inviting and, as each step of the recruitment process went on, we felt it was it really right for us.”
“Us” includes Heller’s wife and his three children — an 18-year-old son, a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old old daughter. “Between school and sports, it’s a busy transition, but it’s our intention to have the whole family up here,” said Heller.
Heller is getting to know the Placerville community and his staff through a series sit-downs that are critical to his focus on collaboration with the community. “I’ve been on a number of boards in the past, but I prefer to have more direct involvement,” said Heller of his community activities. “I coached baseball and football in Modesto and they are in the process of getting a Boys and Girls Club there. I would like to reach out to the Boys and Girls Club here.”
“My focus is on improving the quality of life for the community and the quality of service in our department,” said Heller. “Police are in the business of service and this goes hand-in-hand with the quality of life. The police are the community and the community is the police.”
Of Modesto’s crime rate, significantly higher than the state and national average, Heller said the police attributed the higher rate of robberies, property thefts and assaults in the city of Modesto to the recent realignment of prisoners, due to AB 109 and Highway 99 being a major narcotic trafficking thoroughfare. “The gangs and violent crime come from the supply side of the narcotic trafficking and the property crimes and robberies are often on the demand side — addicts stealing copper or wire to buy a $50 bag of meth.”
“It’s a tireless effort on the part of Modesto law enforcement and the community to interrupt the flow of violent crime,” said Heller. “There are a lot of good people in that community and the police department is using the opportunity to find more progressive crime solving techniques and to better their approach to crime.”
While serving as Division Commander for Investigative Services in 2012, Heller said there were more than 20 homicides. “We had a 100 percent crime solve rate,” he said.
In his new capacity, Heller is looking forward to a different focus — one of solving quality of life issues instead of strictly managing crime. “Managing crime can be reactive. Law enforcement can’t solve everything by itself, but it can provide key leadership. By developing solutions as a community, we can speak with one voice which is very effective,” he said.
“Broadway is on my radar,” said Heller. “Homelessness is not a crime. It does present challenges, especially for businesses. A collaborative effort between the business community, law enforcement and the community at large is important. From what I know of the Placerville community, it is very generous, but there is a tipping point where the community simply can’t provide resources for a whole region.
“We can reestablish Broadway — bring the parks and the businesses back to functioning and then hand them back to the community to maintain,” said Heller. He uses the broken window analogy to illustrate his point: “If you fix the little things early on, like a broken window, letting someone know that you’re paying attention, then you can often prevent bigger things from happening and it’s easy for people to maintain.”
“I want to build a multi-disciplinary team in my department to deal with the challenges of the transient population. The front-line officers who deal daily with transients should have a network of resources at their disposal, not just move them around,” said Heller. “Homelessness is a social issue and you can’t solve it with traditional law enforcement tools. Connecting people with resources and getting them counseling is even more important than providing housing. Problem-oriented policing looks at a social solution to the problem first. Sometimes people come unplugged and if we can help restore them to being functioning citizens, we’ve served the community.”
Heller comes into the police chief position with a salary of $109,140. He was sworn into office at the Placerville City Council meeting on Sept. 10 in front of a large contingent of family, friends and fellow officers from Modesto.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.