CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. (KERO) — Changes are coming for the California City Police Department. Chief Jon Walker is retiring after two years with the department and almost three decades in law enforcement in Los Angeles.
Chief Walker came to the department after retiring from the Los Angeles Police Department. He had no idea he’d be leading the department in one of the most high-profile cases the city had ever seen. But he said his “completely voluntary” resignation is unrelated to that case.
The case he is talking about is the disappearance of Orrin and Orson West who have been missing for more than a year. The 3 and 4-year-olds disappeared from Cal City in December of 2020. The boys adopted parents reported them missing from their backyard. They said the father left the backyard gate open and left them alone briefly and when he returned the boys were gone. Since then multiple searches have taken place both in California City and Bakersfield with many people joining in to help.
The Bakersfield Police Department took over the case in March 2021.
"Due to facts now known to investigators, and the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, the City of Bakersfield is a historical nexus to the children," said a BPD press release at the time. "The California City Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation will continue to have active roles in the investigation."
“We did everything we could with that case and I'm at peace with that," said Walker. "I have not given up hope for those kids. I still wake up every day thinking about them. But it absolutely had nothing to do with my decision.”
Walker came to Cal City after 28 years with the LAPD. In that time he said his department has worked tirelessly. He said he was able to help CCPD standardize reporting and stabilize staffing. But he said, “small-town politics are tough.”
CCPD, like other small-town departments, has been “strapped for resources.”
“I’ve taken this department to a place where we can push farther but the fact that the resources aren't there for us to push any farther. I don’t think I can take us any farther at this point. So maybe it’s time for some new ideas, for somebody new to come in and take them to the next level.”
Walker said resources take money, which they’re trying to work on. And finding candidates in law enforcement is competitive.
California City is the third-largest California city by landmass and Chief Walker said the population of 13 to 14,000 is growing. But only 14 officers, including Walker, cover the area. something they felt during the West boys case
“We were stretched to the limit. People working 16, 17, 18-hour days. Not only to cover our daily operation but also to work that case.”
Interim City Manager Anne Ambrose said she’s appreciated the efforts of Walker.
"It’s been really great working with the chief. Having somebody that’s worked in law enforcement as long as he has. He has certainly been an asset to our city. I’ve been really grateful for his knowledge and the working relationship we’ve had.”
Walker has been living in Los Angeles County with his family and he’s spent many days and nights in Cal City. He isn’t sure what’s next but he’s not necessarily retiring. He has these words for his replacement: “This is a 24/7 job. I’m on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as it should be as a chief. But anyone who becomes a chief needs to know that. Whether you’re in the office or not, you are tied to your department and should be.”
Mayor Jeanie O’Laughlin believes that Lt. Hightower will be acting chief and a potential replacement.
Meanwhile, Chief Walker said he has no part in picking his replacement which is industry standard. The city manager leads the helm of finding the next chief.