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The Leadership Beat: ‘A caring leader translates understanding into action, making tangible changes or decisions that reflect the team’s input and wellbeing’

Chief Marcelo A. Blanco reflects on the importance of a familial culture, value-based leadership and inclusive decision-making to serve and support his team and community


Upland Police Chief Marcelo A. Blanco pictured at a community event in downtown Upland.

Photo/Upland Police Department

The following content is part of Police1’s Police Leader Playbook, a resource aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.

In June 2022, Marcelo A. Blanco was named chief of the Upland (California) Police Department. During his 30 years of service in Upland, Chief Blanco has held all titles, from police volunteer to captain.

The Upland Police Department, situated in Upland, California, serves a community at the gateway of the San Gabriel Mountains in San Bernardino County, bordering Los Angeles County. The city, elevated at approximately 1,242 feet, boasts a population of 79,040 residents. The department is structured to include 78 sworn officers and a professional civilian staff comprising 40 full-time and 20 part-time members, alongside 12 volunteers, totaling 150 personnel. Annually, the department handles approximately 133,000 calls for service, with 67,000 processed through Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and 28,700 being emergency 9-1-1 calls, reflecting the dynamic and responsive nature of its operations in serving and protecting the Upland community.

What was the incident or person in your career that put you on the path to becoming a chief?

When I first embarked on my journey in law enforcement, my goal was set on reaching the rank of captain — a goal I viewed as the pinnacle of my career aspirations. However, as I advanced through the ranks, my perspective broadened, and my aspirations evolved. This progression led me to reassess my initial goal. I realized that the true extent of my potential was not just to reach a milestone but to surpass it. This shift in mindset propelled me toward a higher ambition, aiming for the utmost leadership role, and embracing the philosophy of striving not just for what I believed was attainable, but for the highest achievement possible in my profession.


Upland Police Chief Marcelo A. Blanco talks to community members at a Chill with the Chief event.

What do you (or did you) want to accomplish, improve or make better in your first 30 days as chief, 6 months as chief and year as chief?

Upon assuming the role of chief, my initial 30-day objective was to guarantee a seamless transition that would minimally disrupt the organizational flow. Recognizing the complexities inherent in change, my primary focus was to mitigate any disturbances to our operational efficiency. Transitioning into the six-month mark, my emphasis shifted toward reassuring our team that substantial shifts in our strategic direction were unnecessary, given our already positive trajectory. This period was crucial for solidifying trust in the continuity of our mission and affirming our commitment to community service.

Moving forward, I aimed to bolster our productivity and enhance our engagement with the community. This involved not only maintaining our high standards of service but also reinforcing our presence and responsiveness to community needs, affirming our dedication to upholding the values and expectations that have long been established.

Throughout my entire transition, my vision was focused on nurturing a familial culture within our ranks. This cultural shift was intended to ensure our organization remained an attractive option for prospective recruits, retain our valued staff, and address staffing challenges to reduce the reliance on overtime. Creating an environment that supports our personnel not only fosters a stronger internal community but also enhances our ability to serve our external community effectively, maintaining our focus on safety, service and community partnership. This holistic approach underscores our commitment to service, community engagement, and the well-being of both our team members and the residents we serve.

How are you creating an organizational culture that people want to be a part of?

Navigating the unprecedented scenario of accommodating up to five different generations in the workplace poses unique challenges in cultivating an organizational culture. In our endeavor to foster a familial atmosphere at the Upland Police Department, it was crucial to ensure that every member felt heard and valued and that the work we undertook was both meaningful to our staff and beneficial to the community we serve. The unwavering support from our community has been a cornerstone in nurturing and reinforcing this familial culture within our department.

Creating a sense of belonging and support within an organization and from the community lays a solid foundation for a robust organizational culture. This sense of support is vital; it not only fosters a positive working environment but also contributes to the overall morale and productivity of the team. Our executive team’s approachability, authenticity and transparency have been instrumental in reinforcing our commitment to a family-like organizational culture.

However, it is understood that much like in any family, disagreements and challenges inevitably arise. It is our proactive and constructive approach to conflict resolution that sets us apart. By engaging in open dialogue and seeking mutually beneficial outcomes, we not only address these challenges but also strengthen our organizational bonds.

This strategy of emphasizing open communication, meaningful engagement and supportive leadership has proven effective in bridging generational divides, fostering a cohesive and inclusive culture, and ultimately enhancing our ability to serve our community with dedication and unity.


During the Upland Police Department’s Open House, officers demonstrate all the equipment used by the agency. Officer Ortega, a member of the SWAT team, took charge of demonstrating the BearCat to a future officer.

What’s your process for making major decisions?

For making major decisions such as implementing new policies, launching initiatives, allocating resources, or making major purchases, my approach involves a multi-step process that emphasizes collaboration, transparency and stakeholder engagement.

Initially, for policy issues, especially those with significant personnel impact, I start by consulting with the police association board to identify any major concerns. This step ensures that potential policy effects are thoroughly understood and that any significant issues are addressed early in the process. If a policy is mandated by state or other requirements and allows no flexibility, I prioritize open communication with the association and department members, explaining the necessity of the policy and ensuring they are aware of upcoming changes.

For launching new department initiatives, I seek the association’s buy-in and create a test group to identify and rectify any unintended consequences or challenges. This iterative process allows for refining the initiative before wider implementation, ensuring a smoother transition and better outcomes.

Regarding major product purchases, involving end users and all relevant stakeholders in the evaluation process is crucial. This collaborative approach helps in selecting the best option that meets organizational needs and is cost-effective. My role as Chief of Police in this context is to secure the necessary funding based on the collective input and decision of the end users and stakeholders, ensuring that the chosen solution aligns with our operational requirements and budget constraints.

This decision-making framework is designed to foster an inclusive and transparent environment, promoting open dialogue and consensus-building to ensure decisions are well-informed, equitable and supportive of both the organization’s and its members’ best interests.

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Welcoming new officers to the Upland PD family during a Swearing In Ceremony for Officer A. Ojeda, Officer J. Ortega and Officer A. Barrera.

How do you show your personnel that you are leading with value-based behaviors?

To demonstrate leadership grounded in values such as honesty and integrity, I actively showcase my commitment to supporting and standing by my personnel, both internally and externally, emphasizing the importance of their actions and decisions in serving our community and ensuring public safety. My approach involves unequivocal support for my team when their actions align with our core values and the mission to serve the community effectively and ethically. I make it clear that as long as our officers act with integrity and prioritize the safety and well-being of the public, they have my full backing.

Furthermore, I embody a leadership style that takes responsibility for the department’s shortcomings. In instances where we fall short of our goals or make mistakes, I accept accountability, addressing the community and our elected officials directly to acknowledge these failures and express my commitment to learning from them. This stance not only demonstrates my dedication to transparency and accountability but also reinforces my support for my team by shouldering the responsibility for our collective actions. It’s a clear message that while I champion their successes, I also stand in front to absorb the impact of our failures, ensuring we learn, grow and improve as a unified force.

This leadership philosophy fosters a culture of trust, mutual respect and continuous improvement within the department, showing my personnel that I value them as professionals and individuals committed to the noble cause of public service. Through these actions, I aim to inspire and motivate our team, cultivating an environment where value-based behaviors are encouraged and exemplified at every level of our organization.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

I’ve found “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, “Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything” by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt and “The Leadership Challenge” by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes to be invaluable resources for leadership insights and strategies.

How do you organize your day and stay on schedule?

I organize my schedule and stay on track using Microsoft Outlook Calendar, and with invaluable assistance, guidance and prodding from my Senior Administrative Assistant, Diana Vazquez.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

If the budget request were guaranteed approval, I’d make a significant investment in all new police vehicles, safety equipment, state-of-the-art radios for all my field personnel, and a new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)/Records Management System (RMS) to enhance operational efficiency and officer safety.

What is one way leaders can show they care about their people?

A leader demonstrates genuine care for their team by being fully present and actively listening to their concerns, ensuring that communication is a two-way street. Beyond listening, a caring leader translates understanding into action, making tangible changes or decisions that reflect the team’s input and well-being. This approach fosters a supportive environment, building trust and showing team members that their voices are valued and their contributions make a difference.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

My daily workout, slotted in at any available time, serves as a crucial recharge, breaking the routine to rejuvenate my energy and focus. Yet, the essence of my evening unwinding is the cherished time spent at home with my wife, Michelle, and our dogs, Briskit and Brie, anchoring my day with their companionship and love. This balance of personal well-being and family time is fundamental to my daily renewal.

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