The Layover With LAAPOA, Episode 6: Sitting Down With Simi Valley Police Chief Charles “Steve” Shorts

In the newest episode of The Layover With LAAPOA, LAAPOA President Marshall McClain sits in conversation with Simi Valley Police Chief Charles “Steve” Shorts. Shorts is a 33-year law enforcement veteran who began his career with the L.A. City Park Rangers, where he served as civilian park patrol officer and eventually promoted to interim chief park ranger. After serving more than 12 years with the City, he made the decision to lateral transfer to the Simi Valley Police Department as an officer in 2001. There, Shorts rose through the ranks, working a variety of assignments and serving in numerous capacities, including field training officer, property crimes detective, supervisor for the homeless liaison officers and school resource officer units, commander, assistant police chief and much more. Early this year, Shorts was sworn in as Simi Valley’s chief of police, becoming the first Black person and the first member of a minority group to lead the department.

Tune in to learn more about Shorts, his law enforcement career, his thoughts on current criminal justice reforms and policies, and his future goals as chief. The full episode is available now on LAAPOA’s YouTube channel. Here are a few highlights:

A Sparked Interest

Shorts was born in Harbor City to parents who grew up in the greater Los Angeles County area. His mother and father attended San Pedro High and Fremont High, respectively, and both had careers with L.A. County. Shorts’ mother was a pediatric nurse practitioner, and his father worked in security (which became the L.A. County Office of Public Safety and eventually merged with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department). Despite his father working in specialized law enforcement, Shorts admits that following in his footsteps wasn’t something he had set out to do initially. “I thought that I was going to go into business,” he shares. “After I graduated from North Hollywood High, I went to Santa Monica College and I was working on my lower division studies.” It was there that “something sparked me to take some administration of justice classes, and that kind of made me evolve into looking [more] toward police work as an occupation.”

From Ice Cream Scooper to Peace Officer

Funnily enough, Shorts’ first job was far from the world of law enforcement. He worked the ice cream counter at a Thrifty store located off of Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. How he went from ice cream scooper to law enforcement professional is an interesting story, he says. After almost finishing up his associate degree, Shorts made the decision to sponsor himself through the Rio Hondo Police Academy. “I came out of the Academy and the L.A. City Park Rangers was just one of the first opportunities that I had to get on a criminal justice agency,” so he started working with the agency as a civilian park patrol officer. Shorts says that less than two years into serving in that role, the Park Rangers became a certified state law enforcement agency and started hiring sworn peace officer park rangers, and he wound up promoting to sworn park ranger.

The Multifaceted Duties of a Park Ranger

Shorts describes L.A. park rangers as “jacks of all trades,” noting that they are unique in that they are sworn law enforcement officers as well as certified firefighters with credentials to fight fires and administer basic first aid. “When I was working for the park rangers, we were considered generalists,” he says. “We have peace officer authority, so we were doing law enforcement; we were doing wildland firefighting, search and rescue; we were doing resource management education programs and emergency maintenance.”

Thoughts on Arming L.A. Park Rangers

When asked about his thoughts on arming L.A. park rangers — a divisive issue among City leaders and a cause that LAAPOA has repeatedly advocated for on behalf of its park ranger members — Shorts has this to say: “The issue regarding whether L.A. City park rangers should be armed has been going on for years, [even] while I was there, [and] I’ve been gone 22 years. As I understand it …  if they’re law enforcement officers and they’re out there doing safety law enforcement security services, they need to have the proper equipment (firearms) to do the job. They should be able to defend themselves and defend the public.”

Transitioning to Simi Valley

“I promoted a few times to Senior Park Ranger I and Senior Park Ranger II, which was the deputy chief park ranger at that time, and it’s interesting in law enforcement how timing works,” Shorts says. While he was a park ranger, he made the decision that he was going to transition to municipal law enforcement and started testing for Simi Valley P.D. and got accepted. However, tragedy struck before he could make the move.

The chief park ranger at the time, Hector Hernandez, was to return from leave on the same day that Shorts was going to transfer to Simi Valley, but Hernandez passed away the night before his return. “There were a lot of discussions, and I made the decision that I was going to go ahead and stay with the Park Rangers and maybe try to become the chief park ranger for the organization,” he says. “Through the normal City processes, I became the interim chief park ranger, but I didn’t let go of Simi Valley P.D. I’d gone through the process [with them], so at that same time, I became a reserve police officer at Simi Valley P.D.”

Shorts says his time as both interim chief park ranger and Simi Valley reserve officer gave him insight and “some time to focus and really figure out what I wanted.” What he found was that he “loved everything about Simi Valley. Everything about it — the organization, the residents, the community. And it was really running through my veins.” After six months as interim chief park ranger, Shorts ultimately transitioned from the Park Rangers to Simi Valley P.D.

Shorts concludes that being park ranger gave him invaluable experience that he still carries with him to this day. “I don’t believe I would be the chief of Simi Valley P.D. if I hadn’t worked at the Park Rangers,” he shares. “I got some valuable tools in working in both open space and urban parks. One thing you learn as an L.A. park ranger … you learn how to talk to people and de-escalate and try to get voluntary compliance. I would say the personnel I worked with over there mastered that art.”

Social Service-Oriented Policing

Shorts, who’s been with the Simi Valley P.D. for 22 years now, says the biggest challenges that his agency and the profession as a whole are dealing with revolve around public health issues, because law enforcement operates at the intersection of public health and public safety. “I sometimes talk to people, and they don’t realize that because of the mental health epidemic and the homeless epidemic, police officers in this state are working in that intersection,” he explains. “In our county, we sometimes use the terminology ‘social serviced-oriented policing,’ and certainly during the social justice reform period, we heard from some folks who thought that we didn’t have the skills, the training and the ability to deal with folks who were suffering from these issues because it’s a public health crisis.”

However, Shorts is quick to educate the public and clear up that misunderstanding. He says people are surprised to learn how much his officers actually know and how law enforcement has been collaborating with public health for years. “We were partnering with psychiatrists and we were working on these issues when I was a ranger in the ’90s … so we as law enforcement — and the public didn’t know this — we saw this issue coming, and I would say we, which includes myself and all of us in government, didn’t do the things we needed to do to intersect it properly, and now we have an issue on our hands.”

People are also surprised to learn that Shorts has personnel in the Simi Valley P.D. who specialize in and deal with public health issues specifically. “I select officers who are neighborhood resource officers [which handle homeless issues] for us; I’ve got a vulnerable population detective; and I’ve got school resource officers. They’re hand-selected; they give from and have care in their heart, dealing with kids and dealing with people who have health issues,” he says. “We do some good work out there. And I think people are really, really surprised that we are committed to doing our part — it’s not our problem to solve alone, but we’re stakeholders in that issue.”