Ascent To Become CSULB’s Top Cop Not Surprising To SolorzanoPublished: July 15, 2011
When long-time University Police employee Fernando Solorzano came to work on June 20 things were different—he was the boss. Hired 19 years ago as the first officer with no prior law enforcement or military experience recruited for CSULB’s Police Department, ascending to the force’s top spot might have seemed like a longshot, but not to him.
“This is where I had seen myself,” said Solorzano. “My loyalty has always been to Long Beach. I came here for my college education right out of high school and I just really bought into the university lifestyle. I wanted to find a way to continue to work here so when I finished my degree in criminal justice, I decided I wanted to be in law enforcement, and having been exposed to the type of law enforcement here, when the opportunity became available, I began to pursue it.”
At age 41, Solorzano noted that he is the second-youngest police chief in the CSU system by a year or so. And although he had been preparing himself to become chief some day, with the retirement of his predecessor, Stan Skipworth, earlier this year, the opportunity came sooner than expected.
“When Stan decided to retire, I knew the opportunity was going to come much sooner than I had ever anticipated, but I was ready,” he said. “I’ve had a great opportunity to work with an incredible professional staff within our department and the university community and I also made the time to prepare and develop myself to get me to this point. It was an opportunity I would not pass up and I was prepared to challenge myself to do well in the testing process.”
Solorzano’s career development began on the day back in April 1994 when then-police Chief Jack Pearson hired him, despite the fact his only related experience was that of campus parking officer and before that as a student assistant in parking. Needless to say, Pearson, who had just started at CSULB after working as police chief at the University of Kansas, was taking a calculated risk by bringing the enthusiastic, yet inexperienced Solorzano into the fold.
“He did take a chance on me, but I think one of the strengths I brought with me is that I was already an employee here and I knew the system and I knew the department,” said Solorzano, who was sworn in as a CSULB officer in 1994. “I think he was looking for some internal experience, and by that I mean CSU experience. Chief Pearson was very supportive and encouraging. When he sent me to the academy (Rio Hondo Police Academy in Whittier) I was one of the lucky recruits because I already had a job since I was being sponsored by the police department here.”
The new chief said it was a huge benefit for him to have previous work experience on campus because it allowed him to learn the culture of the university environment and understand the different styles of enforcement it would take vs. working in municipal or county agencies.
“I think a university culture is similar whether it’s at a CSU or UC campus or even in a different state,” said Solorzano. “Each university may be different in that they have a different size police department or administration, but I believe one can identify a similarity in the style of law enforcement within a university environment.
”Early in my career here,” he added, “I had some exposure to an outside agency, being assigned to an undercover task force representing our police department, so this opportunity really helped me to develop my skills and gave me experience when it came to working outside the confines of the university law enforcement.”
Solorzano, who through the years steadily rose through the ranks within the department, feels his experiences will serve as a tremendous advantage because he knows first hand many of the obstacles his officers may face on a daily basis.
He began his career with University Police as an officer patrolling in a white police car. His next rank was corporal; then from there he had the opportunity to take on different assignments, one of those being detective. From detective he returned to patrol as a sergeant, where he was a supervisor for his watch and then became a detective sergeant, coming back inside to supervise what was known then as the Investigations Services Unit.
“It was there where I really started to learn more about the culture of the university in the sense of working with different campus administrators and student groups,” he said. “Now I was working with deans, VPs, AVPs and student leaders, the different levels involved when sensitive investigations were assigned to the detectives. I began to branch out outside of the normal role of patrol.” That work, he said, prepared him for the lieutenant position, an administrative post where he was in charge of the services that come with managing a budget for the fleet, training assignments, the emergency preparedness sergeant and the Emergency Operations Center, and all reimbursements from P.O.S.T (Police Officer Standards and Training).
When Pearson retired in 2007 and Skipworth became chief, Solorzano moved up to take his position as captain. Little did he realize that just four years later he would become chief and all that came with it.
“It’s much more responsibility in the sense that people look to you to lead and they look to you for answers when problems or sensitive issues arise. I firmly believe our strength within our organization has been the leadership within it. I am fortunate to have two commanders, Lt. (Scott) Brown and Lt. (Scot) Willey who can be my support and be instrumental in the progression and development of our organization,” he said.
“I think knowing what to expect and preparing myself as I have has been to my benefit,” he added. “There’s going to be challenges and controversial issues. It’s about understanding that you are responsible for the entire organization, the Police Department, and understanding that it’s just one part of a larger institution—the university.”
He also understands it is and will continue to be a learning process.
In 2007, Pearson sent Solorzano to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., something he appreciates having the opportunity to do. The academy is an independent program for law enforcement leaders and focuses on leadership and the administration of justice in state and local law enforcement. It conducts four 10-week sessions each year for groups of law enforcement executives.
“Having been able to attend the academy has also been a very big part of my development,” he said, “but that doesn’t stop and shouldn’t stop. It continues now, and it will continue as the chief.”