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Zuniga is Castle Hills new top cop

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Esteban ‘Steve’ Zuniga has been Castle Hills’ permanent police chief since mid-April. He served as interim chief following John Siemens’ departure to Universal City. Courtesy photo/Castle Hills

CASTLE HILLS — With more than 25 years of law-enforcement experience, Esteban “Steve” Zuniga is the town’s new police chief.

City Council voted April 13 to take the “interim” tag off of Zuniga’s title. He took over for John Siemens, who left Castle Hills to become Universal City’s top cop.

Zuniga’s policing stints include five years with South Padre Island, and 10 years with Castle Hills where he most recently held the rank of captain.

He thanked the council for its vote of confidence. He wants to continue implementing a vision for the future promoted by his predecessor, he said.

“Chief Siemens had his vision on what direction he wanted to take the department and did so with our support, and got us to where we are today,” he said.

Added Zuniga, “It is still my vision to continue in the same direction that we are going now, of course always seeking ways to improve the quality of service that we provide the citizens of Castle Hills and not to disrupt or change the culture that we have worked so hard to build.”

But, Zuniga added, the Police Department will not simply stand pat. He supports one of Siemens’ original proposals to create a traffic-enforcement officer position.

The new chief’s educational experience includes training at the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University for command staff leadership and public information officer skills.

City staffers plan to forward the proposal to the council as it prepares the Fiscal Year 2022 budget this summer.

“We’ll always be on the lookout for ways to improve all areas,” Zuniga said. “There’s always room for improvement.”

While searching for Siemens’ successor, the city put together a panel to review the 24 applications they received for the chief’s position.

City Manager Ryan Rapelye said the panel zeroed in on candidates with law-enforcement leadership, training and overall management know-how. The city focused on applicants who had experience as assistant police chiefs, captains or a chief in Castle Hills or a similar-size city.

The panel pared down the list to two candidates — Zuniga and an outside prospect.

Following numerous interviews, the panel recommended Zuniga. According to Rapelye, Zuniga’s interview responses were the closest to being aligned with the needs of the city, residents and the force.

“During the interview, (Zuniga) demonstrated a strong understanding of the demands levied on a police chief of a city of our demographics, expectations and budgetary parameters,” Rapelye said.

“Furthermore, Mr. Zuniga came recommended from, not only his references, but others who were interviewed and were very complimentary and spoke highly of his experience especially among current officers,” the city manager said. “The city also received a letter from the Castle Hills Police Officers Association indicating a letter of support for him as interim chief.”

eortiz@localcommunitynews.com

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