DOWNEY -- Carl Charles Jr. knew at a young age he wanted to be a policeman. It was a job, he said, in which he could do what he loved -- helping others.

In 1990, the Inglewood native joined the Downey Police Department, and was recently appointed chief. He is the first African-American to serve in that post since the department was founded 56 years ago.

"I felt that law enforcement was underrepresented when it came to the minority population," Charles said in a recent interview. "I wanted to assist in bridging that gap, while at the same time, represent a positive role model to young people, particularly African-American males. "

The 23-year veteran of the department replaced Rick Esteves, who retired in 2012.

Over the past two decades Charles has worked in all three divisions within the department, said Lt. Mark McDaniel, spokesman for the department.

"He has been a mentor and role model to all those who come in contact with him and work with him on a daily basis," McDaniel said. "The city of Downey is very fortunate to have him as their chief. We are honored to call him our friend and leader. "

One of Charles' top priorities is "to continue building partnerships with Downey residents," the chief said.

"My goal is to make our organization, as well as our officers, more accessible to the public," he said. "To that end, we are embracing various aspects of social media, like the department's website and Facebook. "


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According to Charles, the department will soon be available on Twitter, YouTube and Nixle, an application that will allow them to send out breaking news.

In 1957, the Downey Police Department began with 50 officers serving the city of 83,000 residents. Today, 105 officers serve over 100,000 residents.

Charles plans to increase the number of neighborhood watch programs within the city and the number of officers to "maintain an acceptable citizen-to-officer ratio," he said.

Currently, there are 134 neighborhood watch programs citywide.

Another goal, he said, is completion of the department's Training Center, where officers will have access to a state-of-the-art interactive simulator depicting real-life crime situations.

Being a law enforcement officer has not come without some disappointments, Charles said, expressing his concerns about the AB 109. Passed in 2011, the legislation was intended to reduce prison overcrowding and costs, and recidivism among criminals.

But many local officials, including Charles, say it was an unfunded mandate that put criminals on the streets. The Downey Police Department will add personnel to monitor this population, Charles said.

Although Charles earned his bachelor's degree in sociology and his master's degree in public administration, he said he has never desired another profession outside law enforcement.

The new chief and his wife of 16 years, Angela, have two teenage children.

"The most rewarding part of being a policeman's wife is the satisfaction of knowing he has an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone's life on a daily basis," his wife said. "Judging from the past experiences that he has shared with me over the years, many lives have been changed and improved by Downey officers. "


Contact Pamela Hale-Burns at 562-714-2141 | pam.hale@presstelegram.com | @PamelaHaleBurns on Twitter