Westminster PD holds Neighborhood Watch meeting to encourage dialogue with residents

By Jessica Peralta

In the continued effort to promote an open line of communication between residents and law enforcement, Westminster PD hosted a Neighborhood Watch meeting in the city’s Council Chambers on Sept. 14.

With about 50 residents in attendance, WPD Chief Ralph Ornelas, along with other members of the agency, held an open dialogue regarding several topics, including fireworks management in the city, crime prevention and any other concerns or questions raised by audience members.

“I wanted you to know from the onset … the kind of person I am,” Ornelas said to the residents regarding his commitment to address their concerns. “When I say something, I mean it.”

Westminster Police Cpl. Phong Pham, left, Chief Ralph Ornelas and Commander Darin Upstill speak with attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

The primary topic of the meeting centered around the use of illegal fireworks in the city – before, during and following the Fourth of July holiday. Safe and sane fireworks are allowed for purchase, and use in the city on July 4. But several residents complained fireworks have kept going beyond that day.

Commander Darin Upstill said the WPD is taking a proactive approach and pursuing several strategies for helping to minimize the problem.

“There’s no secrets,” he said. “I’m gonna let you know what we’re doing.”

Westminster Police Commander Darin Upstill speaks to attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

He said the agency is working with the Orange County Fire Authority on coming up with solutions, as well as with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to more effectively make arrests when appropriate.

There also is a plan to increase patrol by the WPD bike team around the Fourth of July. The stealthy nature of bicycles allows these officers to ride upon criminal activity often in progress, and catch criminals in the act – a necessity when it comes to illegal fireworks use.

The agency also will use its Special Investigations Unit for increased enforcement, as well as PSAs and social media to get the word out about zero-tolerance for illegal fireworks.

Ornelas stressed the importance of community involvement when it comes to illegal use of fireworks, as well as other criminal activities. That includes calling 911 if a resident notices suspicious activity and collecting as much information as he or she can gather: license plate number, description, video, etc.

“Bottom line is we need good witnesses,” said Ornelas. “We are only as good as the citizens providing the information.”

Westminster Police Commander Darin Upstill listens as questions are asked by attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

Upstill said video and social media can be great assets in crime solving – and, in fact, video has helped the agency identify suspects in the past.

“What we’re talking about here is creating a synergy,” Ornelas said. “It’s all of us communicating more effectively. … That’s one of the things I really believe in is community policing.”

Westminster Police Cpl. Phung Pham speaks to attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas speaks to attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos

Westminster Police Cpl. Phong Pham, left, Chief Ralph Ornelas and Commander Darin Upstill speak with attendees of the Neighborhood Watch meeting in the City Council chambers. Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos