By Mary O’KEEFE
The recent attack on police in Dallas where five officers were killed and the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota by police officers have those in law enforcement walking an even finer line between protection of the community and awareness of the ever-present dangers of doing their job.
“It was absolutely shocking. As a police chief it brought [me] great concern for the personnel here and for police officers across the country,” said Glendale Police Chief Robert Castro.
Castro has a son who serves on the police force in Azusa so he understands what it is like to not only be an officer when this type of news hits, but what it is like to be the father of an officer hearing the news. He also knows what it is like to lose a fellow officer – he had a partner who was killed in 1995.
“It was senseless and reprehensible,” said Capt. Bill Song, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. Crescenta Valley Station, of the Dallas killings.
As a precaution both LASD and GPD assigned two officers in each patrol unit after the Dallas incident.
“I put two people in the [patrol] car and I had some people criticize me for that but I felt it was important for fellow officers,” Castro said.
He wanted his officers to know their safety was important. That type of patrol continued through the weekend. Castro added that police still served the area with the same level of coverage as before.
Both agencies have since returned to their regular patrol assignments.
A lot of recent dialogue has concerned community policing. The proponents of community policing contend that open communication between the citizens and the officers who serve their area would help when officers respond to calls.
Both Castro and Song said they believe that a key component of law enforcement is community policing. That works when officers stay at stations, or specific patrol areas, for a long period of time; however, there are some difficulties that arise when officers are moved around.
“Lately there has been a lot of [turnover],” Song said of his staffing at CV Station.
LASD covers all Los Angeles County areas that are unincorporated, like La Crescenta. Some cities hire LASD, like La Cañada. Deputies are often moved from station to station, but there are a great number of both deputies and detectives who have served at the CV Station for years.
Song uses the veterans to train those who are newer to the station because each area they serve is unique. He added it is an adjustment to come to a new place, but the duty of law enforcement is to serve the community no matter what community they are working in.
Castro said communication is important when training officers on how to do their job.
“The way we do it is we talk about it. I tell them to think about how they would want an officer to approach that person [they stopped] if it were a member of their family,” Castro said. “We can do that without having to take away the person’s dignity … but we still have to do our job.”
And that’s the line that has to be walked by officers and why training and community communication is so important.
Both LASD Crescenta Valley and Glendale Police have representatives at meetings of local organizations, like Neighborhood Watch, and local government, like CV Town Council and Glendale City Council.
In addition to the meetings personnel can often be found at school functions and especially at local National Night Out programs. This year NNO is on Aug. 2.
“I encourage our officers to [reach out],” Castro said. “I think now is the time to do even more. On National Night Out we will have a record number of personnel out [at neighborhood events].”
CV Sheriff’s Station personnel are hosting the NNO event at their location at 4554 Briggs Ave. in La Crescenta.
Both Castro and Song said as horrific as the events in Dallas have been, they will not cause their officers to recoil. They will continue to do their jobs, and have been encouraged by the response from their communities.
“We had [members] of our community here to offer their support,” Song said.
Castro said he has received supportive emails and other communications.
“People are bringing food, even buying lunches for some of our officers when they see them at restaurants,” Castro added.
Capt. Song and Chief Castro have made certain to share the stories of support with their personnel.
Song added the community support is appreciated and the outreach will continue.
“We have to keep it that way,” he said. “Our main goal is we are serving the community.”