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2012 – Jon Peters – Portrait of a Leader – Part II

Jon Peters

SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) was a tremendous experience for Captain Peters. “I wish I could have spent five years there,” he says. He enjoyed it so much that he considered passing on an opportunity to become captain. But, the LAPD top brass recognized characteristics and qualities in him that were needed for good leadership. “There is a greater purpose here” he was told.

January 2013 begins Captain Peters fourth year at Pacific division. He is quite familiar with the area and has personal ties. He was born in Santa Monica and his wife, Cathy, was born and raised in Westchester. She still has family in the area plus both have friends who live in the community.

The diversity of Mar Vista, Palms, Venice and Westchester can be challenging from a policing standpoint. “The mixture makes it interesting and unique in many respects,” says Captain 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 cites the major 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 Captain Peters started promoting through the ranks, he identified his personal concept of leadership as intangible qualities that come 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.” 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.”

In order to improve, Captain Peters 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.

It’s important for Captain Peters 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 Captain Peters. 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.” He realizes 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.”

Captain 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, to Captain 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 Captain Peters’ only job. His vast experience is an asset for the Incident Management Team put together for big events. An example is the Academy Awards last year when he was in charge of all outside security. Most recently, he was West Branch Director for the Endeavor shuttle. “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”. In this case, it is Cathy, Captain Peters’ wife and 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.”