By Christine Huard

5:10 A.M.NOV. 9, 2014

In the summer of 1960, Dave Worden was fresh out of high school when he entered the San Diego Police Department’s cadet program. He was 17, but he knew what he wanted to do. A little more than three years later he would sign on with “America’s Finest,” graduating from the police academy on Valentine’s Day, and dedicating his life to policing.

“He was basically just somebody who loved law enforcement,” said Jack Doherty, who worked with then-Capt. Worden from 1985 to 1986 as the staff sergeant of the newly constructed Western Division, and again when the captain called on him to help with a strategic restructuring of the department’s medical assistance unit, which administers support to injured officers.

Worden rose through the ranks to become an assistant chief in 1991. It took an opportunity to head up a nascent operation to lure him away from the department after 38 years of service. He recruited Doherty to join him.

Doherty, the police lieutenant in charge of field operations for the San Diego Community College District Police Department, where Mr. Worden became the chief in 1998, recalled his boss as a leader who knew how to help officers be their best, even when the situation wasn’t the best.

“The thing that inspired me most was that this was a guy who could look at what you were doing, correct a problem he might see, and leave you feeling good about yourself,” Doherty said. “You didn’t walk out feeling as if you’d been reprimanded. You felt valued, a member of the team.”

Mr. Worden, a native San Diegan who resided in the Mount Helix area of La Mesa since 1978, died of cancer Oct. 5 at Scripps Mercy Hospital. He was 71.

At the San Diego Police Department he served as the commander of the vice and narcotics units for seven years during a crackdown on massage parlors and organized prostitution. The program he designed and implemented to place undercover narcotics officers on high school campuses was one of the first assignments for a young officer from the Midwest — Shelley Zimmerman. The future chief of police posed as a transfer student at Patrick Henry High School for three months in the fall of 1983 in an operation that would lead to the arrests of 70 students.

When he retired in 1998, Mr. Worden’s duties included supervising the records department, the communications division in which 911 dispatchers handle calls, and the property room in which evidence is stored, as well as maintaining the department’s fleet of patrol cars and other administrative tasks.

“Each succeeding job was the best job he’d ever had,” Doherty said. “There was a kind of enthusiasm about him that he saw each new job as a fresh challenge.”

That outlook led him to accept the college district’s position of top cop, where he refined the department’s mission of maintaining a safe educational environment for students and staff on three college campuses and six continuing education campuses. Under his leadership, the department adopted the motto “Serving with Integrity,” which is displayed on the district’s patrol cars and established community-oriented policing.

He retired in 2006.

“He saw an opportunity to develop a small, young police agency and take it to a new level of professionalism,” Doherty said.

David Marc Worden was born Jan. 27, 1943, at Mercy Hospital, the oldest of four children to Donald Worden and Sue Graham Worden. He graduated from Point Loma High School in 1960, and attended San Diego State University. He held a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Anita Costello; three daughters, Allison DeBow of North Park, Tracey Worden of Denver and Libby Robertson of La Mesa; a sister, Nancy Fischer of Carlsbad; two brothers, Dan of Bullhead City, Ariz., and Erick of New Hampshire; five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.