Cops aren't like regular people -- at least that's what most
people seem to think.
It seems that most people have a bad opinion of cops, or none at
I have to admit that I haven't always had a very good opinion of
them. That changed when I got into journalism. My first job at a
newspaper put me in contact with police officers on a weekly basis
and I learned a lot about them.
They are just like everyone else. They have families, they have
lives outside of the police department and the same things that
bother us, bother them.
Last week I went on a ride-along with two Huntington Beach police
officers. It was an eye-opening experience. Although Huntington Beach
is a relatively safe city, bad things still happen. That can be said
for any city. Regardless of how hard authorities try to stop each and
every crime from occurring, they can't -- it's impossible. But they
can come up with innovative programs to help fight crime and hire
police officers who truly want to make a difference.
Huntington Beach has done just that by establishing its
Neighborhood Enhancement Team and by making Officer Art Preece part
of that team.
The team targets problem areas in the city such as the Oakview
neighborhood. While some people might feel uncomfortable with the
fact that they would have to go into troubled neighborhoods on a
daily basis as part of their job, Preece enjoys it.
"This is the best detail in the department," he said of his job.
"It's not boring and there's a little bit of everything."
Preece is a big guy and cuts an imposing figure with a no-nonsense
attitude toward his work. He has an authoritative voice that lets you
know that he expects your full attention when he's speaking.
And attention is what he gets. As we drove through the Oakview
neighborhood everyone seemed to recognize him. Children waved and
adults knew his name. They knew him and he knew them. That's how it
should be in all cities. The six-man Neighborhood Enhancement Team
spends a majority of its time in Oakview. The team responds to 90% of
the calls that are made from there and it helps when investigations
take place, Preece said.
He is able to approach people that he knows can help him solve
cases. He can get answers more quickly than an officer who has never
been to the neighborhood.
He knows the neighborhood like the back of his hand and he knows
when something is out of place. He knows who belongs in the
neighborhood and who doesn't. He knows which gang members belong to
which gang and he knows who's in jail, who's been to jail and who
just got out.
Even though there have been three murders in the past few months
in the Oakview neighborhood, it's obvious to anyone who watches
Preece work that he's doing his job. He cares about the residents and
wants to make it a safe place for them to live.
Although most Oakview residents have probably never told him that
they appreciate his hard work, they do. The smiling children who wave
at him as he drives by are a clear indication of that.
While I knew a little bit about what daily police work is like, my
ride-along with Preece taught me so much more. It gave me an insight
into the way that police officers build relationships with city
residents. It reminded me of the fact that they do more than just
write traffic and parking tickets.
It let me know that there are people out there who are working
hard everyday to make cities safer. Police officers don't have an
easy job and that's something that we should all think about the next
time we complain about cops.
* JOSE PAUL CORONA covers City Hall and education. He can be
reached at (714) 965-7173 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.