By his own admission Robert Nevarez concedes he was not the best of students while in college. Unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, he dabbled in different majors but only succeeded in landing on academic probation. It wasn't until his Uncle Ray invited him to visit the San Jose Police Department in 1984 that things began to change. He met a Capt. Hernandez and it made an impression on him.
"Something clicked visually and I saw someone I wanted to emulate," Nevarez said.
He returned to college and graduated with a 3.8 GPA from Fresno State University. A couple of years later he started his law enforcement career as a recruit for the Fresno Police Department. He worked his way up to sergeant in 1993, lieutenant in 1999, captain in 2000 and deputy chief in 2003. Earlier this month, Nevarez was sworn in as the new chief of the Delano Police Department. "I've got a lot to learn," said Nevarez, though he has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience.
He hit the ground running and has been busy getting to know the community in all aspects. So what kind of relationship are you hoping to establish with the community, I asked him?
He was direct to the point.
"Trust," he said. "I want the community to see us as them, there's a lot of people who see (police) as if we're from another planet. We're human."
If that's what he wants, he's got a lot of work to do. Delano has had 19 homicides since 2016 with five this year as of this writing. Ten cases are considered closed, meaning the case has either been adjudicated or an arrest was made or a warrant issued, said Sgt. Peter Lopez. Nine cases remain unsolved. "There's a lot of things I have to look at and see what we can do as a department to solve these cases," Nevarez said.
As the second largest city in Kern County, Delano continues to grow. Like the rest of the county, the city has a large population of undocumented immigrants, who given the current anti-immigrant political climate, may be reluctant to contact police should they be a victim of a crime or witness one. ICE continues to be a threat. Earlier this year, a man and his wife were killed when their SUV crashed into a utility pole on Cecil Avenue while attempting to flee from ICE agents.
Nevarez is well familiar with this issue. His father emigrated from Durango, Mexico, to the U.S. at age 18 as an undocumented worker. He eventually obtained legal residency, a process which was a lot easier to do back then. Nevarez was born in San Jose and raised in Modesto.
"I can assure the community -- hopefully, they'll believe me -- we don't want to know a person's immigration status. That's none of our business," Nevarez said.
Amen to that. That is following the same practice of the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Office, among others.
It helps that the new chief speaks fluent Spanish to engage in direct communication in this primarily agricultural community.
He hopes to bring more bilingual officers on board and make maximum use of those who are bilingual. One plan is to foster better relations between the cops and the community by replicating a program at Fresno P.D. called Hispanic Residents' Academy. Its primary purpose is to better acquaint the Spanish-speaking population with how their police department works and the service available to the public. Academy classes are held for the duration of 13 weeks in Spanish by police officers and other law enforcement agency representatives. A similar program is done in English.
Delano had been without a permanent police chief since November when for mysterious reasons, ex-chief Mark DeRosia was fired. Nevarez is in command of a department with 80 full-time employees, 56 sworn officers and a budget of $10.9 million.
Married for 30 years, he has two adult children and a 16-year-old son. And he turns 54 years old on Wednesday.
Delano and Nevarez appear to be a good fit so far. "I feel at home, I feel like where I'm supposed to be," he said.
His other priority is to build and gain the trust of the men and women of Delano P.D. "I alone can't do much," said the chief. "But with all the emloyees we can do a lot for Delano."