National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Community Resources

Public Safety: Success Stories

Success Stories | References | Organizations | Tools & Templates | Laws & Policies

Santa Ana Uses Community Policing Methods to Reduce Crime in Heavily Immigrant Area


The City of Santa Ana, located in Orange County, California, has witnessed many demographic changes over the last two decades. Due to increased competition for jobs in Los Angeles, it has become a magnet for immigrants who traditionally would have settled in Los Angeles.

In 2000, Santa Ana had a population of nearly 340,000—three quarters of whom were Hispanic, mostly of Mexican descent, and nearly 30,000 of whom were Asian, primarily Vietnamese refugees. According to the 2000 Census Supplementary Survey, Santa Ana ranked first in the nation among large cities for the largest proportion of Spanish-speakers—74 percent of Santa Ana's residents speak Spanish at home and over 90 percent of schoolchildren in the Santa Ana Unified School District are Latino.

Given the enormous demographic shifts that have taken place in Santa Ana since the 1980s, Santa Ana law enforcement officials needed to build trust and foster a sense of pride of place among the area's many immigrants.

To strengthen Santa Ana's social fabric, the police department developed an enforcement approach sensitive to the language and culture of the immigrant population. It built on the momentum created by Santa Ana's adoption of policies that acknowledged the cultural and linguistic needs of the newcomers. Since the early 1990s, for example, new workers hired by Santa Ana agencies were required to be bilingual, in part to improve communication with immigrants and in part to reduce the need for costly translators. Policies such as these have improved government officials' ability to bridge cultural and linguistic differences and to serve the entire community.

Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters developed and implemented a Community Oriented Policing (COP) philosophy and set of principles in 1992 that have substantially reduced the crime rate, fostered community pride, and built effective police partnerships with a number of community and religious organizations and government agencies. In its 2004 annual report, the Santa Ana police department presented data showing that Santa Ana had the lowest FBI crime index of any city with a population between 250,000 and 500,000. It ranked 38th. The annual report also showed a substantial reduction in crime in Santa Ana since the early 1990s from an FBI crime index of approximately 75 per 1000 in 1991 to less than 34 per 1000 in 2004.

Santa Ana's community policing effort takes several forms. All officers, even rookies, must identify policing problems in the community and develop creative and holistic approaches to solving those problems. All officers are trained in how to bring in other social services and involve community partners in tackling particular problems. Bilingual officers are recruited. Of the 368 officers on the Santa Ana force, 186 officers (or 51%) are bilingual in Spanish, four officers speak Korean and five speak Vietnamese. Bilingual workers earn higher pay, as a function of their fluency in the second language. Because of the demand for bilingual workers in Orange County, filling vacancies can be a slow process. Sometimes officers are recruited from outside the county and the state. Officers are assigned to the same beat for at least two years, giving them the chance to really deepen their knowledge of the neighborhood where they are stationed and build relationships with residents. These fundamentals are then enhanced in a number of ways—through officers serving as liaisons with neighborhood associations, through having a Hispanic Affairs Officer and a Vietnamese Liaison Officer, and by deploying a community relations team to do outreach work in the community.

The impact of these community policing techniques on crime reduction has been significant, as illustrated by their effect on the Minnie Street area. This area is home to Hispanic and Cambodian immigrants and was the site of gang and drug activity. Traditional enforcement measures had not succeeded in reducing crime. Beginning in 1994, the department puts its new community policing principles into practice. Officers drew on other city departments, including the school district and social service agencies, and community organizations. They worked with apartment building managers in the area to set up a substation in one of the apartment buildings staffed with two Spanish speaking officers, and had access to Cambodian translators. Area patrols were increased. Between 1994 and 2000, the number of calls for service was halved, from 1899 to 917. Area residents developed a much stronger sense of community pride and belonging, and communication between residents and the police improved.

Santa Ana has garnered a number of awards for its community policing efforts, including Excellence in Community Policing from the National League of Cities and Successful Community Policing for preventing crime in Latino communities from the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

Lessons Learned
Santa Ana's effective community policing approach was built on a few basic principles:

·         Take a holistic approach. An approach that bolsters police enforcement tools with social service partnerships and other programming to reduce the root causes of crime can be very effective.

·         Encourage creativity. Traditional law enforcement can benefit from creative solutions to new problems, in this case the huge influx of immigrants into the area. This was not business as usual, and new approaches were called for. Hiring bilingual officers, partnering with immigrant organizations, building a positive presence in immigrant areas, and attending community meetings improved communication and relations between immigrants and the police.

·         Create accountability. Santa Ana's police department ensured that these policing principles were integrated into all of its operations and incentive structures. New officers are trained in this approach and more senior officers evaluated on results in the field.

For More Information

Contact: Sergeant Lorenzo Carrillo at lcarrillo"at" The City's website is



Crossroads Campaign Solutions