After dedicating 30 years of service to the Upland Police Department, during which he held every rank from police volunteer to captain, past PORAC Treasurer Marcelo Blanco has added one more title to his resume: police chief.
Initially appointed by city leaders as Upland’s acting chief in April after former Chief Darren Goodman departed for San Bernardino, Blanco was formally named chief on June 28 and was sworn in at the July 11 City Council meeting.
“It was very exciting and daunting at the same time,” he recalls when asked about his reaction to the promotion. “Reaching the pinnacle of a law enforcement career after three decades of hard work is beyond words. The daunting part is that now I am responsible for everything; I can’t go to the next person and say, ‘Hey, boss, what do you think about this?’ unless I sit on the opposite side of my desk and ask myself. The comforting part is I don’t have to do this alone — I have an excellent team of officers, detectives, supervisors, executives and professional staff to help me navigate this new venture.”
Blanco credits the teachings of his parents and mentors with planting the seeds of his success, but the accomplishment is also the culmination of years of hard work and determination. “I have always been career-driven, and as I was promoted within the organization, I felt the opportunity was within reach and continued to work toward achieving this goal,” he says. Along with climbing the ranks in his agency, he has a wealth of association leadership under his belt, including 11 years as president of PORAC’s Inland Chapter and nine years on the PORAC Executive Board as treasurer — experience that also imparted many valuable lessons he can bring to his new role. “Being on the PORAC Board has taught me that you cannot make everyone happy no matter how hard you try. In addition, it taught me to keep an eye on everything and not disregard the little things, as they can become more significant issues later on,” he says. “Furthermore, my time on the PORAC Board has provided me with additional resources when it comes to equitably dealing with labor concerns. I have built lifelong relationships with individuals who have made their careers serving their respective associations and PORAC members. These individuals provide critical insight into dealing with labor dilemmas. Having the ability to tap into this type of resource is not something most chiefs have at their immediate disposal.”
Strong ties with labor will help Blanco pursue his objectives as chief. While the overarching goal for every chief is to keep the community safe, he notes, that’s something that can only be achieved by having dedicated officers on staff. “Therefore, my goal is to foster an environment where people want to make Upland Police their professional home and not contemplate going elsewhere.” Like so many agencies, Upland is facing staffing challenges, and recruiting new officers is more difficult than ever due to the negative portrayal of law enforcement over the past few years. “Who in their right mind wants to join this profession to be denigrated or marginalized?” Blanco asks. “Law enforcement is a tough job on its own; however, it is compounded by the lack of visible public support. This lack of support has created a demographic that wants to challenge everything we do. These situations generally lead to turning a routine incident like a traffic stop or pedestrian check into a potential use of force.”
Fortunately, Blanco adds, Upland has been very supportive of law enforcement, so the recruitment challenge lies more in getting the word out to officers in less supportive communities and encouraging them to relocate. “It is easy to put your blood, sweat and tears into a community that has your back, and Upland is that community,” he says. “People genuinely love their police department and they show it in numerous ways, especially during those times when other cities were succumbing to the ‘reimagining’ hysteria.” Those strong community ties inspire Blanco’s passion for leading the department that’s been his professional home ever since he was hired right out of the police academy: “Just as people have supported us throughout the years, this was my way of giving back to the community I love.” He plans to continue strengthening the bonds between the department and the public through relational policing and engagement. “We are in the ‘people business’ and should be fostering every opportunity we have to impact our communities positively,” he says.
But local action is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to shaping the future, and that’s where PORAC comes in. Noting the importance of opposing misguided legislation that affects public safety statewide, Blanco urges PORAC’s members and leaders to keep doing their critical work of speaking up for law enforcement. “Our profession is under unprecedented attack, and the only way we will change this is through education and organizations like PORAC,” he says. “Stay strong in the fight to preserve officers’ rights to do their jobs without fear of prosecution by the public or their organizations. Furthermore, keep fighting for just laws that protect everyone in our respective communities.”
As he officially takes the helm as chief, Blanco offers this advice for anyone thinking of following his example in their association or agency: “Many are afraid to take leadership positions because they are comfortable in their existing position or do not believe they have what it takes to succeed. We are all in a field where you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Most of us learn through trial and error, and leadership is no different. Expect to make mistakes, take ownership of them and move forward. Being in a leadership position does not make you a different person; remain genuine to yourself and go for it!”