Building Trust within Marina Police Department Drives Retired Detective, Cancer Survivor Forward

November 13, 2019

The following content first appeared on the news page while UMass Global operated under its former name of Brandman University.

MONTEREY, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2019) - Retired detective sergeant Aaron Widener, who has spent nearly a decade persevering through a fight with cancer, is now working through a Brandman University doctoral program to achieve lasting change for the Central Coast police department where he spent his career.

“God kept me alive through my ups and downs with this cancer battle. There’s got to be a purpose for me that I don’t see yet,” Widener said.

Widener, 49, joined the Marina Public Safety Department in 1996. Marina was combining its policing and firefighting services into a single department at the time, so he divided the first years of his career responding to both crimes and fires. Widener considered law enforcement to be his lifelong calling, but he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 and accepted medical retirement from his work as a sworn police officer in 2014. He found a new way to serve Marina’s department shortly thereafter, taking a training manager’s post in the police chief’s office.

He was employed in this capacity when, in 2017, he began his work at Brandman toward a Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership. The degree program requires students to demonstrate leadership by undertaking and evaluating a Transformational Change Project for the betterment of an organization.

Widener chose to merge his professional and academic pursuits, designing a project for the Marina Police with the objective, in his words, of “reaching in and changing the culture and mindset of the department.”

“It was time to really start developing the people within the department and creating a culture that is really looking at developing the next leaders,” Marina Police Chief Tina M. Nieto said.

Project goals:

  • Improve the Marina Police Department’s organizational culture, enhance teamwork and provide greater transparency to the public
  • Increase trust within the department and help leaders serve as models of accountability
  • Provide sworn officers and department staffers with training and education plans outlining paths to individual career goals
  • Develop an ongoing program to keep officers apprised of new legislation and case law

Widener and department leaders began the project in September.

“I am so impressed with Sgt. Widener’s personal, professional and academic transformation,” Brandman cohort mentor Dr. Joe Jaconette said. “I had the opportunity to observe the Marina City Council's positive reaction to his plan that is among the first of its kind to truly transform the culture and operations of the agency.”

Widener earned a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Brandman in 2013, and a Master of Arts in the same subject the following year. He entered the doctoral program in 2017 and persisted after enduring “very challenging chemotherapy” for several months in 2018.

“I hope there is an aspect of my story that will somehow spark motivation, encouragement to people in general, and to people who have serious challenges or who have had serious challenges, that there are people who get through it,” he said. “So don’t lose hope.”

Widener has also shared his knowledge with others as an adjunct Brandman faculty member, having taught such subjects as leadership skills development, professional ethics and organizational research for the Monterey campus.

“I have known Aaron for almost five years as a student, adjunct faculty, and organizational leader,” Monterey campus director Seble Ayalew said. “Aaron is a true example of a person who continues to persevere with courage. Through the ups and downs in his ongoing fight with cancer, he handles his health challenges with humility and with grace.”


Brandman University is a private, nonprofit institution accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. As part of the Chapman University System, Brandman blends a legacy of academic excellence with innovative programs and support services designed for students with busy schedules. The university offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, credential and certificate programs. Brandman serves about 25,000 students at more than 25 campuses in California and Washington, as well as online. Brandman offers fully-online courses for students anywhere in the United States and for military personnel serving abroad. For additional information, visit the university’s website.

Marina Police Department was formerly a Public Safety Department with the police and fire services combined for over 25 years. In 2007, the Department of Public Safety divided the police and fire services into separate police and fire departments. The Marina Police Department currently has twenty-nine sworn officers and nine non-sworn personnel. The current staffing for the department includes the Chief of Police, two Commanders, five Sergeants, two Corporals and twenty Police Officers. Those sworn positions are supported by one Administrative Assistant, one Records Supervisor, two Records Technicians, a Property and Evidence Custodian, a Training Manager, and two Community Service Officers. The department services include various police patrol services, vehicle abatement, records, including live scan fingerprinting, animal control, school resource officer services, various youth programs, and crime prevention through environmental design.

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