Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster to be honored at Red Light Ball | TheUnion.com

Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster to be honored at Red Light Ball

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster talks to local business owner James Arbaugh of Stucki Jewelers in downtown Grass Valley Tuesday morning. Foster has been awarded with the Public Safety Commitment Award.

Since it was founded in 1998, the non-profit Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council has donated more than $800,000 to local public safety departments. Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster is one of the recipients of the council's annual Public Safety Commitment Awards, to be presented at the 17th annual Red Light Ball fund-raiser Feb. 27 (the event is sold out).

John Foster hadn't yet moved to Grass Valley before he accepted an invitation to get involved in the community. Approached by telephone at his home in Corvalis, Ore., Foster agreed to be one of the judges at the annual Nevada County Fair Queen Pageant.

That pageant is no longer held, but Foster's commitment to community is steadfast. He officially retired at the end of last year, but consented to stay on the job as Grass Valley Police Chief until his replacement is recruited.

Foster's list of accomplishments since becoming chief in 1998 is a long one. Most of his initiatives still thrive, while a few were eliminated by budget cuts:

“From day one, Chief Foster set out to raise up a culture where his officers would embrace two of his deeply held, non-negotiable values: one, that his officers would be highly trained professionals in law enforcement skills, and second, that officers would be personable. A rare combination.”Toby NelsonGrass Valley Police Chaplain

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— Started a Police Intern Program using Sierra College Administration of Justice students for parking enforcement, graffiti clean-up, illegal sign removal and similar tasks.

— Stationed a grant-funded School Resource Officer in local high schools.

— Enhanced community-oriented policing.

— Secured grant funding for a full-time narcotics officer.

— Increased participation in the police volunteer program.

— Developed and implemented citizen speed watch and neighborhood traffic calming programs.

— Implemented a daytime truancy ordinance.

— Created the first-ever Summer Youth Police Academy and CSI GVPD Academy.

— Introduced the Good Neighbor Program to address chronic nuisance or drug houses.

— Hired Grass Valley's first female police officer.

But Foster's stellar career as police chief was marked by more than a bullet-list of accomplishments. Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his community involvement.

"I've tried to be everywhere, all the time. For example, if I weren't at Thursday Night Market, people would ask where I was. How do you serve a community unless you understand what the needs are, and who should be involved to address those needs?" Foster asked.

Uncomfortable with the attention and awards he's received, Foster preferred to direct the credit to his staff.

"I set the tone, but it's all them," he explained. "An organization needs to hire the best, train and equip them well, and ensure there is proper supervision. Then you hold them accountable in a positive way and correct them when need be."

Grass Valley Police Chaplain Toby Nelson believes Foster was the right chief, at the right time.

"From day one, Chief Foster set out to raise up a culture where his officers would embrace two of his deeply held, non-negotiable values: one, that his officers would be highly trained professionals in law enforcement skills, and second, that officers would be personable," Nelson said. "A rare combination."

Foster's nearly 18-year tenure as chief might have lasted a few months if he weren't so fiercely dedicated. Taking the second in a series of mandatory physical fitness tests, Foster shattered his knee cap while descending a ladder. Only six months into the job, it could have been a career-ending injury.

That initial injury and a second knee injury required three surgeries, including one to eradicate an infection that almost killed Foster. Yet he never wavered in fulfilling his commitment.

"I could have gone out on disability, but that wasn't my calling. My calling was — and is — to serve," Foster said.

Foster served with dozens of community-service and police organizations, the most high-profile of which was the Pointman Leadership Institute. That group sends law enforcement experts oversees to train police leaders in modern methods and ethical behaviors. In 2006, Foster was sent to Romania.

"Police corruption was rampant," recalled Foster. "I helped train five police chiefs there. I taught community policing, decision-making, the importance of character, and why ethics is important."

He served as president and every other leadership position with the Central Sierra Police Chiefs' Association. Monica Miller, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Sacramento Field Office and member of the chiefs' association, said Foster has been "the backbone" and "absolutely essential to the success" of the organization. "He's been a great partner and leader. He recognizes the importance of networking and collaboration among police chiefs."

With one of his three sons battling brain cancer, Foster decided he wants to devote more time to his family. That includes his wife of 30 years, Eileen.

"She's the true hero. She raised three boys, much of the time without my help. I've had to spend a lot of nights and weekends away from home," said Foster. "Being a police chief, you give a lot."

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.