Heroes Come in All Sizes

I’m always on the lookout for stories and tips to provide our residents with a better understanding of police work and the dangers we face every time we put on a badge.

Yesterday, I caught an article in the Fresno Bee that was so inspiring, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s about a Tuesday shootout involving Fresno County Deputy Sheriffs and a suspect wielding an AR-15 rifle. This is a wonderful example of peace officers, community members, and one brave K-9 coming together to protect our streets and neighborhoods.

Enjoy, and stay safe out there.

Bobby Lopez
President, San Jose Police Officers' Association

* * * * * * *

Heroism converges at Fresno Co. shooting

By Jim Guy and Paula Lloyd
Fresno Bee

July 14, 2009

Deputies quick to answer a call for help, a sheriff’s dog and two women on their way to work were hailed as heroes in a shooting Tuesday that left the gunman dead and two officers wounded.

The rifle-wielding gunman killed by Fresno County Sheriff’s SWAT team officers was identified as Jesus Serna, 32, of Fresno.

The incident began with a call reporting a man with a gun at a tire shop just south of Fresno. Sheriff Margaret Mims said Serna shot at the first two deputies to arrive, firing even before the deputies could get out of their cars.

Deputy George Ozburn was struck by bullet and glass fragments in his shoulder, arm and face. Ozburn never lost consciousness and directed other deputies to the shooting scene before he was taken to a hospital.

Deputy Mark Eaton was hit in the arm by glass fragments. He stayed on the scene to help with the investigation.

Mims praised two women who came to Ozburn’s aid moments after he was shot: “They stepped up. This was a dangerous situation. … They stopped the bleeding and helped him from going into shock.

“My gratitude is boundless."

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Mims described what happened at Jerry’s Tire Shop on Elm Avenue just south of North Avenue.

Just after 8 a.m., a shop employee reported a man he knew as “Chewy” was at the business with a gun. Initial reports said Serna went to the shop to confront a man he thought was having an affair with his wife, but Mims declined to discuss those details.

Serna used a semi-automatic rifle to fire at the driver’s side window of Ozburn’s marked patrol car and Eaton’s unmarked car.

“This incident happened so fast, the deputies didn’t have time to get out of their vehicles,” Mims said.

After Serna fired at the deputies, he drove about 50 yards away, crashed into a fence and ran into an area where wood pallets are stored.

Within minutes of the shooting, other deputies, Fresno and Clovis police and California Highway Patrol officers sped to the scene, some dressed in civilian clothing. Heavily armed officers carrying rifles and shotguns fanned out around the industrial area as the sheriff’s helicopter circled.

A deputy who arrived moments after the shooting helped Ozburn, who took cover behind a building wall, clutching his shoulder.

That’s when the women, Yvette Dader and Angelique Rocha, took over.

They said they had been driving to work. Dader said she is a home care worker who is interested in medicine.

“I applied direct pressure [to the wound],” Dader said. “We just tried to help as much as we could, which wasn’t much, because we were waiting for the ambulance

“I always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Corrected Rocha: “You weren’t in the wrong place."

Ozburn, 34 and a 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was taken to Community Regional Medical Center and released about 11:30 a.m., Mims said. Eaton, 41 and a 15-year veteran, was treated at the scene and released.

The Sheriff’s SWAT team was training Tuesday morning; less than an hour after the deputies were shot, the SWAT officers with Reno the sheriff’s dog and his handler, Deputy Robert Marean, were searching the storage area. They found Serna barricaded behind a pile of pallets and tires.

Deputies told Serna to come out, but he refused. Reno was “sent in to catch the bad guy and he was shot in the line of duty,” Mims said. The round hit Reno behind his left ear and exited through his face, she said. Reno survived but lost his left eye.

Deputies fired several shots at Serna, killing him.

Mims said Serna “didn’t care for his safety, he didn’t care for the deputy sheriff’s safety. He certainly didn’t care for the safety of the public. But he paid the price."

Mims said Serna has an arrest record for violent crimes, but declined to say what those crimes were.

National Night Out 2009

By Jim Cogan

The best weapon we have against crime in our City is each other. Community policing relies on community involvement. Whether it’s participating in Neighborhood Watch, joining a neighborhood association or simply picking up the paper when your neighbor is on vacation, San Jose’s neighborhoods offer many models of community involvement that make a difference in keeping us safe.

Normally, I encourage you to support my favorite community policing program, Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, but I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to participate in another valuable community policing event, National Night Out.

National Night Out is a crime and drug prevention event sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored locally by the San Jose Police Department. This year marks the 26th annual event, and over 34 million people across the country are expected to participate.

Tuesday evening, August 4, 2009, residents across the country will be taking back their streets. In my neighborhood, we are organizing an ice cream social in a park. A few of us have committed to distribute flyers inviting our neighbors to get together and meet each other. Other neighborhoods have barbeques or extravagant resource fairs, but we have chosen to keep it simple to ensure everyone the opportunity to talk and get to know each other.

Though ours will be a humble outing, we still expect our beat officers and perhaps some of the command staff to attend. We are an official National Night Out celebration and the police department makes every National Night Out event a priority. In fact, I first met San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis at a National Night Out event many years ago.

In order to ensure that the police knew about our event, I called the SJPD Community Services office at (408) 277-4133. They provided me with a lot of helpful information for making our flyers and put me on the list for police visits. They also referred me to this page on the SJPD website for more information.

I am really looking forward to the opportunity to meet my neighbors and talk about how we can improve our community. Please join me in making San Jose a little safer by getting involved and organizing your own National Night Out event on Tuesday evening August 4th.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

San Jose's Understaffed Police Department, Part 2

By Ed Rast

Did you know that the San Jose Police Department ranks sixth out of Santa Clara County’s 11 largest cities in the number of sworn officers and civilian staff per 1000 residents?

Here’s how we stack up against the top five:

Palo Alto 2.55
Sunnyvale 2.18
Gilroy 2.01
Mountain View 1.96
Los Gatos 1.95
San Jose 1.86

The City of Santa Clara comes in a close seventh at 1.85. Note that total police staffing includes both sworn officers and civilian staff. For example, San Jose has 1.46 sworn officers and 0.40 staff per 1000 residents. Each city uses different ratios of officers to staff depending on local crime and budget situations, training and technology usage.

SJPD civilian staff makes up about 21.5% of the total force while many other local and large California cities maintain a staff that’s 25-40% of the force. San Jose has the lowest ratio of police staff per officer of any of the county’s 11 largest cities.

Our staff numbers are lower for a variety of reasons: consistent budget cuts since 2001; the failure to add staff over the past ten years to keep up with growth; and the decision to retain sworn officers in staff positions rather than reduce the number of sworn officers. It costs about $250,000 just to recruit and train every new sworn officer.

It has become very difficult for SJPD to recruit new officers while competing with smaller local agencies, but the problem isn’t just local. There is a growing shortage of about 7,000 police officers in agencies statewide. In addition, many older officers are scheduled to retire within the next five years. Reducing newly-trained officers (last in, first out) would only make San Jose’s future police shortage worse, likely resulting in increased crime rates.

San Jose’s overall crime rate in 2007 was 256.9 crimes per 100,000 residents. While one of the best rates among large cities with populations 500,000, this ranks us 13th out of the 15 cities in Santa Cara County.

Let’s go back to our list of large local cities with the highest police staffing levels and compare 2007 crime rates:

Palo Alto 153.5
Sunnyvale 138.4
Gilroy’s 340.0
Mountain View 186.8
Los Gatos 145.7
San Jose 256.9

You’ll notice that Gilroy’s crime rate is above the U.S. average of 320.9 while San Jose and other big cities in Santa Clara County are well below that average. This goes to show that staffing, while important, is not the only factor in crime prevention.

Higher youth populations, lower median income levels, less jobs per employment age resident (or underemployed residents), large geographical areas, and other factors contribute to increased crime rates.

In San Jose, community policing — including Neighborhood Watch and Neighborhood Action — has been reduced or discontinued. Specialized mounted, traffic and investigative units have been reduced, and overall police staffing is currently at 1998 levels despite a population surge of over 140,000 residents since then.

For FY 2009-2010, city administration proposed reductions to police funding and staffing for the eighth year in a row despite projected higher crime rates. Thankfully, the City Council did not approve the proposed reductions except that a planned 25 new officers were not included in the final budget.

Of course, adding staff is just a part of the solution here. Increased community policing and officer training, more officers assigned to investigative and detective duties (see Beat Cop’s blog from last week), and new technology for patrol and analysis can help to lower crime rates — especially for property crimes — and help offset some staff shortages.

In future articles, I’ll look at rates of various types of crime in San Jose and how increasing police staffing, technology and funding can prevent crime and help protect our streets and neighborhoods.

A Pledge for Public Safety

By Bobby Lopez

For decades, San Jose has had a top-notch police department and avoided the controversy over policing that is a routine occurrence in major American cities. But recently, San Jose has seen a seemingly endless string of negative stories regarding its police department. What’s different here is that the source of the controversy is not a bad cop on the beat or a rogue group of officers. Rather, the problem stems directly from weak administrative and political leadership at City Hall.

For example, the number of arrests made downtown, which some believe is excessive, is a result of administrative policy. The feuds between city leaders and the Task Force on Public Intoxication is a turf battle. The fiasco over the hiring of a new Independent Police Auditor is a political fight between the Mayor and Council.

These stories don’t accurately reflect the outstanding work of our cops on the street. Our officers are highly educated, well-trained, and reflect the communities we serve. We are respected by the vast majority of San Jose’s citizens, as is demonstrated in numerous City surveys, for the tremendous job we do with limited resources.

But negative stories caused by poor leadership have hurt officer morale and distracted us from our real goal: keeping San Jose’s streets and neighborhoods safe. So, in an effort to return our focus to what’s really important to the people of San Jose, I’ve asked our city leaders to pledge the following:

1. Return San Jose to the rank of “Safest Big City in America” within the next five years. We once enjoyed and bragged about this achievement. This goal can be met not just with more cops on the streets but also fully-funded libraries, more homework centers, and cleaner parks. All of these contribute to public safety by keeping our kids off the streets and out of gangs, thereby reducing violent crime, which was the major culprit in our recent drop from the top spot on the FBI list of Safest Big Cities.

2. Support our officers by refraining from knee-jerk reactions to activist complaints, particularly from those who lack expertise. If the experts from the Consortium on Police Leadership in Equity, who were hired by the City Council to review downtown arrests, are hesitant to pass judgment on one set of arrest data without further research to back it up, our elected officials should refrain from doing so as well. Yet we’ve consistently heard prejudicial statements about downtown arrests from the Mayor and City Council when vocal critics of our police force are in front of them.

3. Involve more neighborhood leaders on committees and task forces regarding public safety in addition to the regular cast of activists, who have many complaints when it comes to our police department. San Jose neighborhood leaders know best what the entire city wants from their police force, and should be heard as well.

In December, Mayor Reed was quoted in the Mercury News saying, “We like the bragging rights of being one of the safest big cities, and we're committed to getting back to No. 1.” Now, on behalf of the dedicated men and women of the San Jose Police Department, I’ve challenged the Mayor and City Council to re-commit to putting us back on top by signing this pledge.

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

EDITOR’S UPDATE:

As of this posting, Mayor Reed and all but two Councilmembers have committed to this pledge. One Councilmember refuses to sign pledges as a matter of principle, and another has yet to respond.

The Ultimate Price

In case anybody needed a reminder of just how stressful police work can be, I ran across an article in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times and wanted to share it with you.

Susan Clemmer was veteran detective with the LAPD. She was a stand-up cop, well-liked by co-workers, and always wore a smile. The other day, she put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. As of now, nobody knows why.

Of course, it isn’t hard for a fellow cop to imagine the emotions that must have bottled up inside Ms. Clemmer over almost 20 years on the force. Her death and the suicides of another 19 LAPD officers since 1998 are a stark reminder that this job doesn’t end when you hang up the uniform. The things we see and do on a day-to-day basis take a constant toll. In the backs of our minds, we all know that one day we may be asked to pay the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Police officers are some of the finest men and women around, and they chose public service They chose to serve and protect our streets and neighborhoods. They defend the peace and serenity that we enjoy, and they do it under difficult conditions, understaffed and sometimes feeling unappreciated.

I think everybody should take this opportunity to look at cops as human beings, not just blue uniforms in cars.

Stay safe, and have a great weekend.

Bobby Lopez
President, San Jose Police Officers' Association

* * * * * * *

LAPD mourns suicide of veteran narcotics detective
By Richard Winton and Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
July 8, 2009

Officers throughout the Los Angeles Police Department grieved Tuesday as news spread that a veteran detective had killed herself in the lobby of an L.A. County Sheriff's Department station Monday night.

Susan J. Clemmer, a well-regarded officer assigned to the LAPD's Gang and Narcotics Division, walked into the Santa Clarita sheriff's station about 9:15 p.m. and spoke to the sheriff's deputy at the front desk, according to sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore and LAPD officials.

Clemmer, 41, placed a box of personal items on the counter and asked to speak to a different deputy. After a brief conversation with a second deputy, when Clemmer was briefly left unattended, staffers heard a gunshot and rushed out to find her with a single gunshot wound in her head, police said.

No one else was injured.

What Clemmer said to the deputies, and whether she identified herself as a police officer, remained unclear Tuesday.

The death of the 19-year LAPD veteran left officers throughout the tightknit department stunned.

"We're in shock. It came as a complete surprise," said Capt. Kevin McCarthy, one of the commanders of Clemmer's unit. "She was always smiling and easy to work with. There was no indication that anything was wrong."

Clemmer, McCarthy said, had sent a text message to another detective in the unit saying she looked forward to seeing him at work later in the week.

Clemmer joined the narcotics unit about a decade ago and for the last several years was assigned to a squad that worked with the U.S. Postal Service on cases involving drugs sent through the mail, according to McCarthy.

He praised her as a solid officer.

Soon after joining the LAPD, Clemmer was thrust into the spotlight as a crucial witness for the defense in the Rodney King beating trials of the early 1990s.

She told jurors in a federal civil rights trial that King had laughed about the beating he got from several LAPD officers after a traffic stop and said King had spit blood on her during the ambulance ride to the hospital. She also testified that she had spoken to one of the accused officers moments after the beating and that he appeared frightened by the confrontation.

Clemmer's testimony was central to bolstering the officers' defense that they had been frightened by King and acted out of concern for their safety. She took the stand after an expert witness for the defense testified that King's behavior, as described by the defendants, was consistent with PCP intoxication.

Two officers were eventually convicted in the federal civil rights case. Clemmer gave substantially the same testimony in the officers' state trial, which ended in acquittals and sparked deadly riots in Los Angeles.

Between 1998 and 2007, 19 LAPD officers committed suicide, according to a department study released last year.

Nightmare On My Street

By Beat Cop

Part one of a three part series

Picture this...

You are returning home after a long day at work. While driving down your street you discover your garage door is open. “Hmmm, I must have left it open when I left this morning”, you think to yourself. This self talk provides a few moments of comfort as you pull in the driveway.

Scanning the front of the house, you notice the side gate is open. This is not getting any better. A quick phone call to your spouse confirms nobody has been home all day. You walk into the garage and notice the door leading into the house is partially open. Reality sets in. Someone has broken into your home...

The Reality

In our city, with a population of almost 1 million, the San Jose Police Department investigates over 4,000 burglaries a year with only 7 detectives assigned to the burglary unit. Eight consecutive years of cuts to the public safety budget are bound to affect you as a victim of this type of crime.

In 1986, with a population of approximately 700,000, San Jose Police had 13 burglary detectives and a 16-person burglary suppression unit. Since that time, the city has eliminated the entire burglary suppression unit and cut investigators almost in half.

The city projects that by the year 2020 the population will have increased to 1,150,000. More people and more housing will undoubtedly lead to a rise in burglaries. There does not however, seem to be any plan to increase the amount of burglary investigators.

The case load of every burglary detective does not even come close to making a dent in the amount of cases going through the unit. The lack of adequate personnel prevents most burglaries from even being investigated. With the public safety budget getting cut every year, non-violent property crimes receive less attention. Understandably violent crimes continue to take priority with investigators. For the victims of home burglaries, this is of little consolation.

The Good News

On the bright side, SJPD takes great pride in our professionalism. An overly-abundant case load will not make a detective care for your case any less. There does, however, exist the undeniable reality that an impossible workload reduces the time allotted for each incident.

Thankfully, Chief Davis understands our staffing shortfalls and is working with the City Council to staff SJPD at appropriate levels for a city of this size. Until that happens, we will do the best with what we have. As always, call us, we will be there.

As members of your San Jose Police Department, we want to get involved. We want to catch the person or persons responsible just as badly as you do. With your help, and our expertise, we have a good chance.

Most importantly, let us go inside first to make sure no one is still there — this is why we have guns. Once inside, we will start the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecution. All patrol officers are trained in evidence collection. You are welcome to watch although don’t expect the process to look like an episode of CSI. It’s actually slow and meticulous, not glamorous, but very important.

Finally, we will work with you and your neighbors to offer our expertise in burglary prevention. There are steps members of the community can take to help protect themselves from burglaries and help the police catch the crooks.

Working together, we can reduce the number of burglaries that occur and arrest more of the people responsible for them.

I’ll tell you more about this in future articles.

Proudly serving you,
Your Beat Cop

You Are Not Alone!

By Kathleen Flynn

A rape prevention class saved my fiancé’s life and mine when we were victims of road rage that could’ve ended in a stabbing.

We were driving home one night after a late night meeting. We were stopped at a stop sign. An SUV sped up behind us and passed too close, almost hitting us. My fiancé honked his horn — a natural reaction — and I watched in horror as the driver spun around and started chasing after us. Of course this would be the one time we didn’t have our cell phone with us so we were pretty much on our own until we could get to a phone.

Even in my terror, I began to remember what I was taught in the rape prevention class I took. They said to try to remain calm in a crisis, never drive home if you are being followed and whenever possible, drive to the nearest police station, or brightly lit busy convenience store. I told my fiancé to pull down a side street, and not into our driveway, and to get on the main street as soon as possible. The SUV caught up and cut us off, boxing us in behind a parked car. The driver got out, stood in front of my car, and started threatening to kill us.

He didn’t look like the creeps you see in the movies, quit the contrary. I was deeply struck by the fact that the man standing before us was an attractive, blonde haired, blue eyed, young man in his late 20s early 30s. He didn’t have any tattoos, was nicely dressed, and spoke in a soft voice. The only thing that gave me cause for alarm besides the fact that he had chased us down, and was threatening to kill us was the crazy look in his eyes.

My fiancé got so angry he started to roll down the window to yell at the guy. Another thing we were told never to do, so I begged him not to, and to lean on the horn non-stop instead, in the hopes that someone would call 9-1-1. It was rather frightening to see that people looked out their windows but that no one came out, or called the Police. Something that the instructor told us would likely happen in these kinds of situations.

Undaunted by the horn, the driver proceeded to the passenger window while pulling out a knife. This move cleared a way for us to escape. I got the man’s license plate number as we were backing out, and we drove to a well-lit gas station and called 9-1-1.

The police came immediately, took down our information, but never caught the guy, as far as we know. The officer told us we did the right thing by taking the actions we did, and gave us instructions on what to do to get home safely. He assured us that the guy was probably high on something, was long gone, and most likely wouldn’t even remember doing this in the morning.

I barely slept a wink for days. I kept seeing the terrifying scene every time I closed my eyes. I was frightened to go outside because this took place right next to my home. I was sure he was outside watching, laughing, and waiting to “kill us.”

After three days of hiding and canceling appointments, I reflected on my work with victims of violent crimes. In almost every case, the crimes they experienced were random, not intentional. When victims realized that they were not targeted but rather victims of random crimes, they were able to find a bit of peace.

The phrase “random acts of violence” kept running through my head. Then I got angry. The reality was that I didn’t know this guy, and he didn’t know me. He was just a bully high on something who randomly chased us down the street. That anger turned into empowerment. I was taking my power, and my love of life back! I wasn’t going to stay a prisoner of fear any more; I was going to get on with my life just like he had.

I decided to share this story because all of us have the same emotional reactions to being victimized. Whether you have experienced a crime as simple as vandalism or as devastating as rape, you are going to feel outrage, fear, and a sense of helplessness. It is nothing to be ashamed of; it is a natural response to having our sense of security and safety violated.

Also, when we don’t report crimes we are enabling thugs like this to hurt someone else. Two of the most important things to do when you’ve been victimized by a crime are report it to the police, and talk about it with someone you trust. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the support you’ll receive and how many stories similar to yours you will hear. And if you’re like my fiancé and want to confront the guy, please DON’T! There’s no reason to lose your life over something like this.

I also want people who are here illegally to know that if someone violates you or commits a crime against you or a family member, please report it to the Police. They will not report you to ICE, nor will you be deported. Too many undocumented immigrants are victimized and don’t report it to the authorities. Whether you are a legal or illegal citizen, no one has the right to harm you or your property and get a way with it.

I’d like to invite readers to share their stories. Tell us how you coped with or are coping with being a victim of a crime. Please add any resources you have used or know of that would help others.

Kathleen Flynn is a professional mediator and community activist.

Syndicate content