Longtime employee of La Habra PD now helps keep residents prepared for disaster

By Greg Hardesty

Ever since he first walked into the La Habra police department, at the invitation of a high school buddy who was a police explorer, David Gonzalez has been hooked on serving.

Gonzalez had a chaotic upbringing in a rough neighborhood in Santa Ana. His father was a gang member and heroin addict, and home life was anything but stable.

But since that day in 1993, when his friend introduced him to the Explorer post, Gonzalez has held a variety of full and part-time positions as a member of the La Habra PD’s professional staff, from volunteer police explorer to jailer to community service officer to dispatcher.

In his latest incarnation as Emergency Management Coordinator, a part-time position he’s held for a year, Gonzalez is administering the LHPD’s first CERT team, which will be formed in April.

Although the La Habra PD has, for the past several years, trained residents in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations, next month it will form an official Community Emergency Response Team.

And the LHPD is seeking applicants for the upcoming CERT training, which is free to attendees and involves 20 hours of instruction provided over the course of the first three Saturdays in April (click here for more details, or see flier below).

David Gonzalez, Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of La Habra. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

David Gonzalez is urging La Habra residents to sign up for CERT training in April.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“La Habra’s a caring community, and with CERT we extend that to being a prepared community as well,” says Gonzalez, a full-time professor of public administration and organizational leadership at Brandman University in Irvine who holds a doctorate degree in public administration.

For a kid who went to four different high schools, Gonzalez, 39, has achieved much.

Now he’s urging La Habra residents to step up and become prepared to help their fellow neighbors in the event of an earthquake or other disaster. The 5.1-magnitude temblor that struck La Habra on March 28, 2014, caused some power outages and evacuations and knocked stuff off shelves, but fortunately resulted in minor damage and no injuries.

However, that may not be the case the next time around.

“If you’re prepared for an earthquake you are prepared for other disasters,” Gonzalez says.

The CERT training, certified through the Los Angeles County Fire Department, will be held at the La Habra Community Center. Gonzalez hopes to get at least 40 people to sign up. At the end of training, CERT team members receive green backpacks with a helmet, mask, duct tape, flashlight and other supplies.

Gonzalez is the LHPD’s second person in the role of Emergency Management Coordinator. He took over a year ago from John Rees, the retired LHPD captain who set up CERT training eight years ago.

For Gonzalez, the position was a perfect way for him to continue his almost near-constant work at the LHPD since he was a teenager.

“I like to think of it as my contribution to the community,” Gonzalez says of his current part-time gig at the LHPD, on top of his work at Brandman University, where he is in his third academic year as a full-time professor.

Gonzalez, who has four younger sisters, says his challenging upbringing fueled his desire to excel.

His family moved from Santa Ana to La Habra when he was 14.

Because of his turbulent family life, doing well in high school didn’t come easy for Gonzalez. He actually dropped out of La Habra High School before graduating from the school in 1995.

CERT

Gonzalez, whose father died in 2010 at age 51, credits his mother, Rita Gomez, as well as a teacher at La Vista , the continuation high school he attended for a while, with getting him back into La Habra High School and graduating.

And he credits his experience as a La Habra PD explorer for serving as a “guiding post” for him to excel.

“I was running away from whatever my father was, but then it switched,” Gonzalez says. “Somewhere in graduate school, it switched to being ‘pulled’ by something, a vision or hope of success. Public service did that. It pulled me toward it. And I kept on going.”

After high school, Gonzalez attended Fullerton College. While there, the LHPD hired him as a jailer. He transferred to Hope University in Fullerton and earned a bachelor’s degree in human development in 2005.

Gonzalez earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Biola University in 2007, and in 2016 he earned his doctorate degree from the University of La Verne.

After the LHPD privatized its jail, Gonzalez became a community service officer (CSO) attached to the agency’s traffic investigations team.

He served as a CSO for about five years and after briefly leaving the LHPD, Gonzalez became a part-time communications operator, the position he held before becoming Emergency Management Coordinator.

“I see this as an opportunity to stay connected to the community,” says Gonzalez, who lives next door in Whittier. “I’m interested in public service, period, and supporting the La Habra Police Department in whatever missions it has.”

Gonzalez can be reached at 562-383-4306 or dgonzalez@lahabraca.gov