Ames police chief candidate Justiniano stresses transparency, community in presentation


Justiniano speaks while presenting his police chief presentation Monday at the Ames Public Library. 

Katherine Kealey

The Ames police chief presentations wrapped up Monday night with John Justiniano, the deputy chief of police of the Navy in Fallbrook, California, sharing his plans to bring a new, unbiased perspective to the Ames Police Department.

Justiniano, one of two candidates for the position, graduated from the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice management and a master’s of science/administration of justice and security. Justiniano has achieved the rank of chief petty officer for the U.S. Navy.

Throughout his professional career with the U.S. Navy, Justiniano’s assignments include master-at-arms, chief master-at-arms and temporary senior enlisted adviser in the Force Protection Department. 

“My philosophy as a police officer is that we are an extension of the community and alternatively, the community is an integral part of the police force,” Justiniano said. “So the community itself will dictate how they want to be policed, and we will respond in kind.” 

As a husband, father and grandfather, Justiniano said he and his family are looking to make Ames their home for good. Justiniano’s father is from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and his mother is from California. 

Justiniano was born in Queens, New York, and moved to Long Island when he was 16. In 1995, Justiniano enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on eight military police platforms. Some of his duties included being a part of the special reaction team, emergency management, being the antiterrorism officer and personal security detail leader. 

“I don’t embrace the militaristic way of doing law enforcement, and I want everyone to know that first and foremost,” he said. “It is not autocratic; it is more of a humanistic approach when doing law enforcement.”

As deputy chief of police in Fallbrook, Justiniano managed 23 civilians, four police sergeants, three police lieutenants and four non-sworn staff members. Justiniano said he established a good relationship with the police union by maintaining strong dialogue and played a role in collective bargaining for officers. 

One of Justiniano’s key focuses is to assess red-flag behaviors within the workforce vigilantly. Justiniano handled crisis management pertaining to internal investigations within his police department. 

“There have been some negative cultures that I have identified within my time as deputy chief that I have directly managed,” Justiniano said. “I have directly steered some of those behaviors toward positive behaviors or addressed those appropriately.”

If hired, Justiniano’s expectations of his department would include acting quickly to investigate all allegations and defuse potentially harmful situations through an interactive compliant evaluation website. 

The website serves as a direct line of communication from the public to the police force in case of complaints, and comments can be submitted anonymously. Justiniano said the department then looks into the validity of the complaint and follows up with the appropriate action or further investigation. 

Justiniano intends to follow due process and plans to address public needs when holding all employees accountable for negligent acts based on thorough investigations and strict adherence to federal labor laws. When community issues are brought to light, Justiniano promises to bring transparency and the disclosure of all findings to light. 

Command advisory boards will provide citizens an opportunity to come to Justiniano, in person or virtually, with any issues relating to the police department. Justiniano intends to continue with press briefings and step up content on social media. 

When asked what he would do to better the communication among Ames residents who face language barriers or cultural differences, Justiniano said there will be a percentage the department can’t reach, but he intends to make himself readily available and use informative pamphlets and word of mouth to help spread the word.

Justiniano presented Sir Robert Peel’s philosophy on policing, which includes recognizing the functions and duties of police as dependent on the public’s approval of their existence and to preserve public favor by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. The philosophy also talked about the minimal use of force when achieving a police objective.

“I think we need to, as a police force, be very cognizant of critical stress reactions,” Justiniano said. “We need to take it back to the basics to use physical force, to use deadly force, only in times when all other means have been exhausted.”  

A key tenant of the philosophy for Justiniano is to recognize that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them. 

Justiniano is a “use of force” instructor for small arms and a police officer with the military. 

“We need to understand in order to have that relationship with the community, we have to engage in dialogue; we have to go back to the basics,” Justiniano said. “We have to be a part of the community that is asking for these changes.”

Justiniano hopes to implement the 21st Century Policing model, a blueprint developed during the Obama administration to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust and safeguarding officer well-being. Following this model, Justiniano looks toward the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, which accredits public safety agencies that follow the 21st Century Policing Model.   

Of the Ames population, 51 percent consists of students. When asked how he would use the 21st Century Policing model in a relatively mobile population, Justiniano said the relationship between him, as chief, and Iowa State law enforcement will be critical to communicate any gaps between the two departments. 

When asked about his thoughts relating to school resources officers (SRO), Justiniano said SRO is a critical program that requires a more dedicated source of funding, and he intends to seek funding. 

One community member followed the question with concerns of over-policing of students of color in the American school system. Justiniano said he intends to change the narrative from policing to mentoring.

“The SROCs shouldn’t be there to enforce laws and active policing; it should be more of a mentor role,” Justiniano said. “It should be knowing each student regardless of their skin color. They should be focused on bringing them in and establishing relationships with those students.”