Home-Taught Sensitivity Guides Lawman

In many ways, Dave Barr was a cop's kind of cop, the kind who handled himself well on the streets. He was Police Officer of the Year in Placentia in 1967. In 1979, he won the same honor from the city of La Palma.

But Barr, 53, who recently retired after five years as La Palma's police chief, also wasn't afraid to tell his fellow officers when he thought they could do a better job: Be more sensitive. Adopt higher standards.

Barr's progressive attitude toward police work has led him to become the first former chief to take over as director of Golden West College's Criminal Justice Training Center.

The path that led Barr to a more well-rounded attitude toward policing began within his own family. At a reception on the Huntington Beach campus in Barr's honor Wednesday, Barr told me how having a deaf son indirectly led to changes in his police career.

"In the early 1980s, the state mandated that police officers be better trained in dealing with the disabled," Barr said. "I was teaching at the police academy at Fullerton College and someone said, 'Barr's got a deaf kid; let's give this class to him.' "

But it wasn't that easy. Yes, Barr had a deaf son, Sean. But to prepare for the new class, Barr had to spend time educating himself about what he calls "the deaf culture."

"Make no mistake about it, the deaf have their own culture," Barr said. "There is an attempt to mainstream everybody who is disabled, but sometimes you have to recognize that they see things differently than others."

So he began reading more, talking with groups of deaf people about police work and their problems in dealing with police. With that kind of self-taught sensitivity training, Barr said, it was only natural for him to soon move on toward learning more about the mentally ill and their problems with police.

Barr not only taught police trainees how to approach the disabled and mentally ill, he began teaching officers within his own police department.

Some resisted, but others got so caught up in it, Barr said, that on their own they took sign-language classes to help them apply their lessons on the job.

"In police work, you're taught the need to respond immediately," he said. "But we've learned that not everybody can respond to police the same way. So sometimes you have to learn to just ease into a situation. You learn that you can sometimes help a situation by dealing with others in the family."

Barr had another goal in the area of improved police work. When he became La Palma's chief, he instituted a new code of ethics for officers to live by. Again, he said, some resisted.

"But I think they began to accept it once I showed them that I intended to live by that same code myself," he said.

Barr recently was honored by the National Institute of Ethics for his guidance on police ethics issues.

Instruction has been a major part of Barr's career. He began teaching at the Fullerton College academy in 1974 (he's still on staff) and joined the Golden West staff in 1988.

One of his students from that '88 class was at Wednesday's reception and told me Barr was an outstanding teacher. He happens to be Barr's eldest son, David, who graduated from the academy and has been a police officer ever since.

"I knew that once Dad's police career ended that he'd be teaching somewhere," David Barr said. "I figure he will teach forever."

Dave Barr, his father, told me that learning more about the deaf for his police teaching has helped him better understand his other son. Sean, by the way, just returned from Europe, where he played for the U.S. Water Polo team for the deaf. The team placed second in the world finals.

Increasing Goodwill: Goodwill Industries of Orange County, which already has 12 stores, will open two more Friday in the Saddleback Valley Plaza in Lake Forest. One is a traditional Goodwill store. The other, next to it, is called Goodwill "Keepers," and will include more specialty items.

A grand opening will run Friday through Sunday and include a giveaway of 1,000 items--limit one per family--from clothing to hats to chairs to sports equipment.

Goodwill employs the disabled and provides vocational training for them so they can gain other employment.

Getting Started: Many of the county's professional musicians got their start with John Koshak and his Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra. The new year--which begins with rehearsals Sept. 24--not only includes performances in Orange County, but a summer tour in Europe as well. Concerts are scheduled for Prague, Czech Republic; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna and Graz, Austria; and Salzburg, Germany.

Now here's the good news for some of you: The 27-year-old orchestra is not filled yet for the upcoming year. Koshak, who is also the music director at Chapman University, is auditioning new talent Saturday, Sept. 20. Call (714) 993-2541 for an appointment.

Wrap-Up: The Golden West Police Academy runs two to three classes a year. There's a 25-week, intensive full-time class, and a yearlong part-time class, for those who must support a family at the same time. Classes generally have 25-30 students.

Most of the graduates join police departments in Orange County, said staff member Cassandra Frye. Most of the others work in San Bernardino or Riverside counties. Getting female students remains a perennial problem. The current two classes have just three women between them.

But one piece of good news is that the dropout rate has dramatically declined. It used to be, she said, that about 40% of those who started the first week of classes never finished. But a few years ago, Golden West created a 40-hour orientation session to introduce new students to the kind of training that lay ahead of them. That really changed things. The most recent graduating class, for example, included just three dropouts.

Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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