Cathedral City Police Chief Travis Walker stood tall—he’s 6 foot 4, after all—in December when he dedicated the Fallen Police Officer Memorial next to the police department building.
Among the speakers honoring the ultimate sacrifice by Officers David Vasquez and Jermaine Gibson—who lost their lives in 1988 and 2011, respectively—was Rep. Raul Ruiz. He was joined by representatives of other nearby law-enforcement agencies.
Walker unveiled the memorial along with the officers’ families. “We pray we’ll never have to add any new names to this memorial,” he said.
The memorial’s unveiling was the latest event in a busy first year as police chief for Walker, an accomplished law-enforcement veteran with 23 years in service—including a stint as the tactical commander during the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino.
During a recent interview with Chief Walker, we discussed topics ranging from the city’s recent removal of red-light cameras to his favorite basketball player, Magic Johnson.
“Magic was the best team player ever,” Walker said. “The game was not about him, but the team.”
Walker—the first black police chief in Cathedral City—said recent data shows the city has not been the site of any hate crimes since 2012.
“This is a very tolerant community for as diverse it is,” he said “… People may feel that there was a hate crime, but there are specific criteria that define truly what a hate crime is.”
Walker joined the Cathedral City Police Department as deputy police chief in 2016.
“I led a very blessed career that prepared me for making some decisions that you have to make from this office,” he said. “As law enforcement pros, we spend our careers preparing for different positions.”
One of the most buzzed-about ideas Walker implemented in his first year is the “police cab”—a decommissioned police cruiser painted as a half-police car, half-taxi cab that can be found on the streets of Cathedral City, sometimes parked in front of prominent local bars.
“We’re trying to give that final message. No matter how drunk you are, you still recognize the police car, and on the side of it is a statement: Chose your ride! Think before you drink!” Walker said. “You can get an Uber drive home for $10 to $15, or you can pick up a DUI that can cost $10,000 to $15,000!
“Sadly, the DUI drivers often don’t kill themselves; they kill innocent people.”
Walker said he’s proud of the fact that the city’s done so well at discouraging accidents that it did not receive extra grant money for DUI checkpoints this year.
“We did an effective job and work very hard, and we have reduced our traffic fatalities, so the funding is converted to another community,” he said.
That does not mean, however, that people are no longer driving drunk.
“No matter how much education you put out there about DUI … it’s still a struggle here in the community, and you still have drivers crashing under the influence,” Walker said.
Walker said he recommended the removal of the notorious and controversial red-light cameras that had been at three of Cathedral City’s busiest intersections
“I had motor officers who were sitting down and reviewing hundreds of images. For me, that’s not a good use of an officer’s time,” he said. “There is more going on throughout the city than at those intersections, and it was my recommendation to the City Council to remove the cameras—and we removed them.”
While Cathedral City has a reputation for gang violence, Walker said the city of 54,000—with a police force of 52 sworn officers—is heading in the right direction.
“Public safety has been a priority for the City Council and the city manager in recent years,” he said. “Year to date, we are already at (crime being) 10 percent down from last year.”
When I mentioned the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack, Walker said good training helped the police do their jobs. Sixteen people (including the two perpetrators) were killed, and 24 were injured in the mass shooting and attempted bombing.
“Dec. 2, 2015, was a tragic day that I wish had never happened … and I don’t think that day defines who I am today,” Walker said. “What made a difference that day was that I had good people who worked for me, and the training we received in dealing with an active shooter.”
Walker is a big believer in community engagement, including the use of social media.
“I’m big on marketing the work that the men and women of this organization do,” he said. “If you have a Twitter account or a Facebook account or an Instagram account, you can see that we’re very active, and we’re very engaged with the community. Social media … allows us to tell the story of the Cathedral City Police Department.”
Walker said it’s important the police department touts the positive—because it’s the negative that receives the vast majority of attention.
“There are many positive, comical, heartwarming stories that are not reported publicly—hence the department’s social media campaign,” he said. “… My Twitter feed (@CCPDWALKER) is my own feed; my Facebook (CCPDChiefWalker) and my Instagram (ccpdchiefwalker) are my own, but I have a staffer that does the social media for the department. It’s a sergeant, who as a part of his duty puts the department’s pics and stories out there on social media. He’s extremely engaging, extremely funny and extremely clever.”