La Jollans will recognize a familiar face attending community meetings as the new San Diego Police Department Northern Division Capt. Brian Ahearn took over as commander on Oct. 29. The change in command at Northern after only nine months is part of a cascade of shifting assignments resulting from a senior commander’s retirement.
A 25-year veteran of the SDPD, Ahearn previously was “beach lieutenant” under then-Capt. Boyd Long, with responsibility for La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. He served from about October 2005 through January 2008, during the turbulent period leading up to the beach alcohol ban.
A genial man with a warm smile and a ready quip useful in defusing tense community discussions, Ahearn describes himself as “having less hair but more gray” than on his previous rotation.
Promoted to captain in June 2011, Ahearn leaves Eastern Division after only three and half months to command the more complex Northern Division.
Capt. Al Guaderrama, who joined Northern in January 2011, moves over to the high-profile Investigations I command, overseeing units including child abuse, sex crimes, emergency negotiations, narcotics and the Family Justice Center.
Long, now assistant chief in charge of SDPD’s nine regional commands, was sorry to lose Guaderrama at Northern, but knew he had a well-qualified, able replacement in Ahearn.
“I wanted someone to go to Northern who understood the complexity of the issues involving alcohol and the beach problems. He has a great working knowledge of the region. I needed someone who could hit the ground running,” Long explained.
When then-Lt. Ahearn was assigned to La Jolla and the beach communities, he focused on the Children’s Pool seal conflicts while also working behind the scenes, particularly with surfers, to deal with burglaries targeting La Jolla Shores beach-users, Long said.
“He’s 100 percent committed and always planning ahead, and definitely believes in community policing,” Long adds.
A “proud native” of Hicksville, Long Island, hometown of Billy Joel, whose music he loves, Ahearn, now 48, grew up in an Irish Catholic family, a child of divorced parents, without any clear direction in life.
He was going to college and working bagging groceries “when I realized there was more to life than sitting on a barstool,” but didn’t know what he wanted to do.
At 19 he took his first plane trip to visit a friend in San Diego and found the experience transformational, never wanting to leave the coastal city. He quit school and moved to San Diego later the same year, 1983, and found a job as a Kearny Mesa warehouseman.
It was meeting his wife, Jackie, a registered nurse who then worked at a nearby deli, which made him realize it was time to do something with his life. He continued working as a warehouseman while resuming college part time at San Diego State, graduating with a B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration in 1992. They settled in Santee after their marriage, raising two children now in their late teens.
He joined the SDPD on the advice of his brother, just recruited by the Suffolk County, Long Island, Police Department. Although not from a policing family, Ahearn had a maternal grandfather who was an NYPD mounted patrolman in Central Park in the 1890s.
Ahearn returns to Northern after a rich and varied career moving up the SDPD chain of command. He twice served in the Police Academy, first as a training officer and later as the sergeant overseeing an entire class of trainees, as well as a domestic violence investigator, working under the pioneering family justice model.
He recently completed two and a half years as the lieutenant overseeing Internal Affairs, the unit investigating complaints against fellow officers.
“It’s the most challenging part: to be told that we don’t have good police officers. I loved the job. Every complaint was a story,” he said. He explains that every investigation must be facts-driven.
The most important lesson he took away from Internal Affairs?
“Don’t ever minimize a citizen’s complaint,” a practice he also followed as beach lieutenant.
Ahearn’s new command is known for its continuity of officers. While he’s been away three and a half years, many Northern officers have remained as long as 15 years.
“They have a sense of ownership. It’s community policing as it’s meant to be,” he explained.
After his arrival Ahearn plans to talk with community representatives, assessing the situation before determining priorities.
“I don’t want to police Northern the way we did it before. We need to be progressive and keep moving forward,” he said.
Yet one thing hasn’t changed: he urges citizens to call the police with their reports, even for quality-of-life crimes.
“We need community members to report crimes or any suspicious behavior. That gives me an accurate reflection for police presence. It gives me leverage to lobby for additional resources. If someone says there’s a burglary problem in, say, Bird Rock, I have to rely on reports. Say there are seven break-ins to unlocked cars and people decide not to report them, then we won’t know. [Filing a report] documents crime in an area, gives my lieutenants knowledge that there’s a problem in an area,” he explained.
The city’s budget challenges and the diminished number of officers present challenges, he admitted. Response time may be slower, but officers will respond.
In an emergency, “Chances are there will be an officer nearby,” he says.
To reach Ahearn, call 858-552-1710, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.