If all you knew about Bernard Melekian was that he had spent 13 years running the police force in Pasadena, California, you might wonder why the U.S. Justice Department was bringing him in to head its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. To many outsiders, Pasadena means roses, mansions and wealth, not crime. The wealth is real, but when Melekian took over in Pasadena in 1996, the city was struggling with serious law enforcement problems, including gang violence that had resulted in a triple homicide one Halloween and strained relations between the police and Pasadena's African-American community.
Melekian responded with a program, called "No More Dead Children," that managed to zero out youth homicides for nearly three years. Then he pushed forward with an effort to change the day-to-day behavior of his 200 officers. Melekian made it clear that civility on the part of the police was as important as the policies set forth in the department manual. He got impressive buy-in from his force. In the process, the low-key Pasadena chief became one of the most respected figures in the world of community policing, albeit one whose distinctive approach to policing was not widely known.
That low profile is about to disappear. In October, Attorney General Eric Holder tapped Melekian to head the federal community policing program, better known as COPS. Melekian's assignment is to breathe new life into an office that has languished for most of the past decade.
Police departments across the country are about to hear a lot more about what Melekian's admirers call "The Pasadena Way."