Monday was his first full day on the job as the new chief of , and already Lt. John Meyer was feeling pressure.
He pulled up the major crime statistics that were just released for 2010, and as he had suspected, his predecessor, , left him a pair of big black boots to fill.
Although the number of burglaries swung up slightly between 2009 and 2010, and the number of rapes tripled from one to three, overall, major crimes were down 9 percent in San Juan Capistrano. The number of robberies declined 51 percent, auto thefts fell 15 percent and larceny incidents dropped 10 percent.
“We see a trend over the past few years where we keep going down,” he said. “Honestly, I’m concerned that they’re going to go up under my watch, because they’ve gone down so far. The prior chief did such a good job.”
Meyer, a 26-year Orange County Sheriff's Department veteran, was promoted to lieutenant last May. Before heading up the force in San Juan Capistrano, he was a watch commander at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, a maximum security correctional facility and the county's largest jail. His name is also familiar in South Orange County law enforcement because he worked as an administrative sergeant in Mission Viejo and as a patrol supervisor in Laguna Niguel.
He said he spent much of his first day shuffling through clerical work and responding to a host of e-mails and phone calls. In spite of the busyness of the day, he said the crime stats were at the forefront of his thoughts, as they have been for a few weeks.
At a City Council meeting Jan. 4, the council and Sheriff's Department officials touted the 2010 crime statistics—although not official at the time—as Dwyer's legacy.
Nevertheless, City Manager Joe Tait expressed confidence in Meyer's ability to mirror Dwyer's achievements.
"In unanimously selecting Lt. Meyer, we used Danny [Dwyer] as the measuring stick," Tait said. "The city's management team believes that John most closely resembles Dan's experience, management style and the people-oriented, community-oriented approach we were looking for."
The new chief said he is committed to nipping minor problems before they have the chance to swell into major issues. He plans to use a special enforcement team, along with money from a justice assistance grant, to "address problems at their lowest levels."
Members of that special team will go out and talk to people in a particular area, develop informants, collect information and mediate problems, Meyer said.
As for the lower crime rate? "It's tough to maintain," Meyer said, "but we will."