‘Fate’ and years of service bring new chief to Claremont

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

When Aaron Fate was in high school he took advantage of a program which allowed seniors to take classes at Citrus College for extra credit. However, all of the academic programs were full so he enrolled in an elective introduction to criminal justice. The professor must have seen some potential in the teenage Aaron because he suggested a ridealong with the Monrovia Police Department.

That turn of events must have been divine intervention because Fate went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and, in 1999, was selected out of a room full of job applicants to be a recruit for the Claremont Police Department.

Now Captain Aaron Fate, following a recommendation from Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen, has been promoted to police chief, City Manager Adam Pirrie announced on Monday.

Captain Fate will take over the chief’s duties following the retirement of Police Chief Vander Veen on November 10. There will be a public badge ceremony for Captain Fate at the DoubleTree hotel on Monday, November 15 at 5 p.m.

“In the 23 years that Captain Fate has been with the Claremont Police Department, he has displayed the experience, temperament, and knowledge of the community that will make for a seamless transition of leadership,” City Manager Pirrie said.

Selecting a candidate from within the department rather than performing a broader search made sense right now, because Claremont really needs someone with established connections, according to Pirrie.

“An understanding of the community is really important particularly during this time when the work of police departments is under more scrutiny than they may have been in the past. Having somebody who understands the community and understands the department I think is particularly important,” he said.

Captain Fate grew up in Glendora where he graduated from Glendora High School in 1993. He is married with three daughters and still calls Glendora home. When not working, which is about to get a lot busier, Captain Fate enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and camping with his family.

When he was looking for his first police job there was another twist of fate when a friend suggested he apply in Claremont.

“When I got hired it was a very difficult time in law enforcement — all the big agencies, the sheriff’s department, LAPD had hiring freezes and so every time there would be an opening people would flock to these testing processes.

“I showed up to the written test at the El Roble gym and there were hundreds of people there. Some had their police academy uniforms because they were putting themselves through the academy,” Captain Fate said.

Looking at those faces in the gym he figured “I’ve got no chance.” He completed the test, and obviously passed, and was the one who was selected. The city then enrolled Captain Fate in the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Academy where he graduated at the top of his class.

“When they sent me to the academy I felt this sense of dedication that they gave me an opportunity, I have to show them that they made the right choice. And so that followed me through my academy time and I have tried to maintain that throughout my career,” Captain Fate said.

He served as the explorer post advisor, field training officer, motor officer, DARE officer, and detective. As a sergeant he served as the support services division manager overseeing the records, communications and jail bureaus, while as a lieutenant, he served as a watch commander, according to a news release from the city.

He was promoted to captain in 2016 where he led the operations division along with holding the responsibilities of budget, program, and policy management. During the last four years Captain Fate has conducted crime prevention outreach with local businesses, led training for the Citizen’s Academy and Community Emergency Response Team and managed community crime prevention programs.

He was selected by his peers as the police officer of the year in 2006 and supervisor of the year in 2013, 2014, and 2016. Captain Fate has been recognized with the Claremont Police Commission’s distinguished service medal, and the police excellence award. In 2006, he was awarded the city manager’s award of excellence, and in 2016, he was recognized as the city’s management employee of the year, according to the news release.

In sharp contrast to the beginning of his career, as Captain Fate takes over the city’s top law enforcement spot, many police agencies are struggling to find enough officers.

“We have seven officers in our field training program which is the most I have seen in my entire career. So our biggest challenge is filling our vacancies and getting people trained and able to go out and do a good job by themselves without a training officer sitting in the car next to them,” Captain Fate said.

Chief Vander Veen praised Captain Fate’s professionalism and his high level of expectation that all Claremont officers will strive to be the very best because, “that is exactly what our community expects of us.”

“I worked with Aaron my whole career and I know where his heart is, I know where his ethics lie and I think he is a perfect fit [because] he truly cares about the community,” Chief Vander Veen said. “He is a people person, anyone can walk up to him and engage in conversation and feel like you just met your best friend.”

It’s been a challenging couple of years for everyone, during which time police officers faced increased scrutiny of the law enforcement practices following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Claremont residents have swelled the attendance at police commission meetings, and in response the commissioners have made a number of changes including redesigning the police patch, making it easier for citizens to file a complaint and most importantly, a mandate, passed by the city council, to reimagine public safety at Claremont’s public school campuses. The city and the school district are forming a committee to conduct the “reimagining” dialog which likely will include ending the school resource officer program.

“I think it is always worthwhile to reevaluate programs over the course of time to see if they are meeting the needs and goals that you want them too,” Captain Fate Said. “So I am encouraged and looking forward to seeing what that end result is. The ultimate answer for me is we’re public servants, we are here to serve the public. If the public wants a school resource officer, then we can do that. If they don’t want one we can do that [as well.] It’s really a matter of how does the public want us to best serve the community.”

He said many of the people who work in the Claremont Police Department have a connection to the community and he believes that gives the department an advantage when working to accomplish what the community wants.

“We have several people who grew up here who went through Claremont schools and now they are out patrolling the streets of Claremont,” Captain Fate said. “I think what has been most beneficial is open communication and being able to listen to all sides of what is going on, what the community wants. What they want their law enforcement organization to accomplish as a community. And the nice part about our organization is our officers feel like they are part of the community.”

Unlike his predecessor, who went into the job intending to serve exactly five years, Captain Fate hopes to lead the department as long as he continues to make a positive contribution and can move the organization in the right direction to better serve the public.

“I have been fortunate in my career to work pretty much every assignment that we have at the police department, which gives me a very well rounded view of the organization overall. In the course of my years of service in this city I have met some really fantastic people and it really encourages me and motivates me to serve the members of this community,” Captain Fate said.

Captain Fate’s badge ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. on Monday November 15 at the DoubleTree by Hilton located at 555 W. Foothill Blvd. All are welcome to attend.

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