Pedro Espinoza​

Chico State
B.A. Sociology '99
Chief of the Gilroy Police Department

Advice for graduates: “Always prepare yourself for the next role, whether it's within your own organization or outside. And always be a nonconformist—seek to better yourself and better those who you represent."

As a child growing up in a Latino and African American community in Compton, Pedro Espinoza's passion was to become a police officer. Much of his childhood experiences shape the way he approaches law enforcement.

“I revert back to my childhood growing up in the inner city of Compton, to the relationships the community had with the police, and I understand the struggles from within the community," he says. ​“I understand the frustrations, and particularly when there's a national demand for reform. But I'm the first one to tell you the majority of us are good, hard-working people. It is our job to filter out those who don't belong in this profession."

From the time he and his friend took a Greyhound bus to Chico State to participate in the Educational Opportunity Program's (EOP) Summer Bridge Program before freshman year, Espinoza has always been preparing for his next role. While there, he worked with EOP and Associated Students programming and founded the first multicultural fraternity with friends.

After his final semester in 1994—though he had one last class to complete, which he later did in 1999—Espinoza sold everything he owned and enrolled in the police academy. He then joined the police department at University of California, Davis before transferring to the Vacaville Police Department and later the Gilroy Police Department.

In 2009, Espinoza took his first promotional exam and “failed it miserably." But a year later, he retook it and passed, launching his promotional journey through the ranks until being appointed chief of the police department in October 2020. Though the eighth appointed chief, he is the first to speak Spanish and English in a community that is nearly 60 percent Latino.

“In the interest of the continuity of the culture of the organization and doing what I thought was the natural next step for the organization, I took that challenge on at a time when its leadership and law enforcement have never been more important​," he says. “The national climate and sentiments about law enforcement are critical, and we recognize change needs to be made to improve transparency and professionalism and to be able to maintain a healthy and resilient workforce."​