I guess cops are people too

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

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

all.

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 jose.corona@latimes.com.

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