DEPARTMENT Capt. Jon Peters, the commanding officer of
Pacific division, in front of a station mural painted by LAPD Officer Rasheen Ford with assistant Mar Vista resident Pat Karasick.

SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) was a tremendous experience for Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Jon Peters, the commanding officer of Pacific division, which represents communities such as Venice, Westchester and Mar Vista. “I wish I could have spent five years there,” he says.
He enjoyed it so much that he initially considered passing on an opportunity to become captain. But the LAPD top brass recognized characteristics and qualities in him that are needed for good leadership. “There is a greater purpose here,” he was told.
This month, Peters began his fourth year at Pacific division. He is quite familiar with the area and has personal ties there. He was born in Santa Monica and his wife, Cathy, was born and raised in Westchester. She still has family in the area, and they both have friends who live in the community.
Peters says the Pacific area can be a challenge to police due to the diversity of communities like Mar Vista, Palms, Venice and Westchester.
“The mixture makes it interesting and unique in many respects,” says Peters. “I think the only division that maybe compares is Hollywood. If you’re working in South Los Angeles, it’s a lot of the same stuff – gang violence is the major concern. Here it’s just everything – property crime, violent crime, major quality of life issues, Venice Beach issues.”
He also pointed to events like the major labor demonstration that occurred the day before Thanksgiving at Los Angeles International Airport. “All of those challenges, although sometimes difficult, are also interesting and challenging as a commanding officer,” he says. “You end up using a lot of different talents, skills and abilities to work your way through the problems. That’s what I like about it.”
As Peters started ascending up the ranks, he learned that leadership is an intangible quality that comes from within. “I believe that leadership is value driven,” he says. “Your personal values should match the department’s core values. For me, that is easy.”
He said the LAPD’s core values are reverence for the law, integrity in all that is said and done, commitment to leadership, service to the communities, respect for people and quality through continuous improvement. “These core values are what guide our actions and reactions,” he says. “They are all important but I think quality through continuous improvement is what is at the core of leadership.”
Peters said he was fortunate to continue his leadership education through the different phases of his career. The department sent him to the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute and the Senior Management Institute for Police in Boston, where he joined managers from police agencies all over the country. Some of those classes were taught by instructors from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He also went back to school for a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Gonzaga University in Washington.
For Peters, it’s important to be the best leader possible for his sworn and civilian personnel. “I want to help them do their job,” he says. “I need to motivate them, inspire them, but also hold them accountable. To do that, you need to communicate clear expectations, model the way in both word and deed and be consistent in your values. You need to connect with your people on a personal level.
“If you have a position like I have, people aren’t always going to be happy. At the end of the day it’s not always about being liked, but that they know I care about them as people and you’re hoping that they will respect you.
His role as a leader for the public he serves is also important to Peters and he considers the relationship a partnership.
“I tell people all the time there is nothing that goes farther with a cop than to know a community he or she serves supports them,” he says.
In turn, he wants to keep the public safe and to have them feel safe, while realizing that he can’t please everyone. “It depends what the issues are,” he says. “Some I don’t have any direct influence or control over. I focus on things that are police matters. Even those things, because of the resources and challenges, we still have to prioritize.”
Peters correlates leadership to building a house or playing sports. “The best structure or team has a strong foundation,” he says. “Everything is about learning the fundamentals. I tell officers not to be so quick to move that you don’t learn first how to be a great cop. I can’t be a good leader if I can’t understand their job and don’t have empathy for what they are going through.”
Humility, says Peters, is a sign of a great leader. “I think it’s something that is overlooked in our society today. Flamboyant, braggadocios, if you will, leaders are not the ones I value. Leaders I value are the quiet experts who have a good sense of themselves and are able to work through other people in an effective manner. They don’t relish the limelight.”
Commanding the Pacific division is not Peters’ only job. His vast experience has been an asset for the Incident Management Team that is put together for big events like last year’s Academy Awards, when he was in charge of all external security. Most recently, he served as West Branch director during the transportation of the Endeavour space shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport.
“We were responsible for getting the shuttle safely from the fence at the airport to the city of Inglewood,” he says. The next day he was requested to help move it from Inglewood to Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. “After being on my feet for two days and 17 hours behind schedule, I was finally relieved at that point,” he says. “That’s part of being a commanding officer in the LAPD.”
There is a saying that “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” For Peters, it is his wife, Cathy, the mother of their six children.
“I have been blessed in my career,” he says. “For me, what makes it all work is my wife’s understanding and commitment to me and our children so I am able to be here as much as I am. You need a support system and I have that in my family.”