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Q&A WITH LA VERNE POLICE CHIEF NICK PAZ: ‘People Didn’t Read the Small Print and Now We’re All Paying For It’

June 1, 2017
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LA VERNE, Calif., June 1, 2017 — LaVerneOnline sat down for nearly a full hour with first-year Police Chief Nick Paz, who graciously accepted our invitation for an interview. He didn’t request to see the questions in advance or to edit the responses before they were posted. It was just two people talking — a conversation — without the coffee — with a lifelong cop who is now our chief.

 

Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject

PERSONAL

Why did you become a police officer?

I didn’t really have a plan to be a police officer. My buddy and I graduated from Northview High School (in Covina) and we were talking one day to see what we were going to do after high school.  He said he was going to be a deputy sheriff, and I said I’ll try that, too. He went directly to the (Los Angeles) Sheriff’s Academy. But I went to Mt. SAC (San Antonio College) to take classes. And I liked the law enforcement classes. One of the people in my classes was Darryl Seube, who later was a captain here (an officer back then), but at the time he was a student like me. I told him I really liked law enforcement and he said you might want to try the cadet program (now the explorer program in La Verne). And he gave me the name of C.D. Claussen who ran the program. He was in his 80s then. I came and saw him. He interviewed me. I got into the program and that’s how my career started.

La Verne also had a reserve program. It’s a volunteer position. You ride with an officer. While you’re on duty, you are a full-fledged police officer and when you are off duty, you are a civilian. That’s a good way to find out if you like law enforcement. So a spot came up, I tested for it and passed. So I did that for a year. Then a spot came open as a regular police officer and I tested for that and got it. That’s how I got started.

How long have you been a police officer now?

Altogether, over 33 years.

How old are you now?

I’ll be 55 this year.

Do you live in the community?

Yes, since 2003.

And when did you take over the chief’s role?

Dec. 29, 2016.

How did the transition unfold?

We knew it was coming so we were preparing for it.  Three people tested for it. All internal.

And did the final decision rest with the City Council?

Yes.

Did you aspire one day to be chief?

No. I just went up the ranks and continued my education. Before you knew it, I was testing for chief.

What’s the successful formula for rising through the ranks?

I always tell young people that nowadays you have to have the education if you want to promote up the ladder. Because I did it the hard way — after I had a family and a home and a mortgage and car payments and raising two kids. So I always tell the new guys, “Hey, listen get your education, and if you can, get a master’s, because everybody has a bachelor’s now. I got as far as a bachelor’s. So get your education and then concentrate on moving up the ranks. Always think one or two ranks above you. That gives you the heads-up on what you need to be focusing on to move up the chain of command.

Since you became chief, what has most surprised you about your new role?

The amount of meetings you have to go to. L.A. County Chiefs of Police, San Gabriel Valley Police Chiefs, L.A. Impact, meetings within the city. City council meetings. There’s a lot of politicking to do.  It’s a lot of meetings. On the weekends, there are a lot of functions you have to attend representing the department. It’s not overwhelming, it’s just busy.

What do you do for down time, if you have any?

I just kind of chill out and relax. I do  a lot of mountain biking. I’m also a pilot. I fly out of Cable (in Upland). I fly to Catalina or somewhere quiet.

How long have you had a license?

I have had the license since 2009, but I have been flying since high school.

What’s the farthest you’ve flown by yourself?

Lake Havasu. I’ll go as far as my wallet takes me.

How often do you fly?

My rule is once a month. I don’t want to get rusty. Once you become rusty, you become dangerous, and you become dangerous to other people.

What do you fly?

Normally, I fly a 172 Cessna.

Do you rent or own?

Rent. I can fly Pipers or Cessnas. I rent because I can’t afford to own one.

You touched on family?

I have two boys, Nicholas and Christian. One is 28, the other is 26.

What’s the favorite part of your career?

When I first started, you came in and never knew what you were going to deal with, as far as the calls that came in. I like variety. I don’t like routine stuff.

Do we have enough variety here in La Verne? We have this reputation of being Mayberry RFD.

That’s the perception that people have, that we’re a small city and nothing happens here. But you get the same types of crime that you get in LA, it’s just a smaller amount. So we don’t know what we’re going to handle next. Something big, something small.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The routine.

Do you have a favorite police movie?

‘Adam-12.’ The television series. It was the most realistic.

La Verne RSVPs host a special dinner for La Verne Police Department Reserve Officers.

 

THE DEPARTMENT

What changes have you made since you took over?

The changes I’ve made have been very subtle. Sometimes people short-circuit when you make changes real quick. One subtle change is our promotional process, in particular, our internal evaluations. I got rid of that and made it more dependent on an outside panel of interviewers so it would be a little more fair for people.

I was here when they brought in a captain from the outside. He made changes very quickly and abruptly and set everyone into a loop. The other ones have been more operational-wise. Nothing that’s going to stand out. They have been more internal.

How big is the department?

We’re 41 sworn. Then we have our civilian support staff. Altogether, we’re 76. Then we have our retired senior volunteers force. And they’re about 30. They are a great bunch of people. Last year, I think they worked 9,000 hours, which to us is like free money.

Then we have the reserve officers. And that’s another 12 officers that don’t cost the city anything because they are volunteers. For a small city, we’ve got a lot of people.

Are we at full strength then?

We are at full-budgeted strength. I have two officers at the L.A. Sheriff’s Academy right now. Once they get out and are fully trained, we’ll be fully staffed — fully staffed in terms of bodies, but not on coverage on the streets.

We have two ways we hire. Lateral, meaning hiring someone from another department who is already trained. Or we have what we call an entry-level, like the two guys who will be new on the streets. They’ve never been cops before. We send our people to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy for training. So that’s where they are right now.

So once a newbie comes on, what are the next steps for that officer?

We have a structured training program. They are assigned a TO or training officer and they spend a certain amount of time with one training officer and then they’ll switch to another training officer until they’re done with all their phases of training. Once they’re done, they go out on their own, and they are on probation for 18 months. Once they’re done with their training officer and “ghosting”– where an officer in plain clothes will follow him around — they are on their own.

That must be an exciting day.

It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking. I remember my first day and thinking, “My training officer isn’t here, so I better remember what he taught me.”

Is the department using cameras now?

We have cameras in the cars.

 

What about on the officer?

The thing with those body-worn cameras is the expense. It’s very expensive to store the data. It costs more than what the system costs. So a lot of small departments aren’t going to them right now. We have car cameras. If you’re lucky, the camera angle is in the right position. The officers also have a microphone on their body that is connected to the camera so you can record and hear the sound.

How many officers do we have on the street?

Our minimum staffing is three beats (officers), a supervisor and a watch commander. So five. The supervisor could be out on the street or at the station. That’s the minimum. We could have six or seven out there.

What event or activity in town requires the most police coverage?

Everybody works on the Fourth of July. We have the parade in the morning and the fireworks show in the evening. It takes all our personnel to work those two events.

And if you call in sick?

You better be laying in bed with a 120-degree fever!

What’s the average age of our officers?

We have a pretty young department. I don’t know what the average age is. If you were to average it out, I’d say in their thirties.

What is the size of your budget?

It’s $11 million.

What do you take away from the fact that residents here in town continually vote to have their own police department rather than contract services out?

The issue came up again this election year. I think it boils down to quality of life. La Verne has its own fire department. It’s one of the few cities around here that has a full-service government, which means we have our own fire, police and water department. I think only us and West Covina have their own fire department.

It’s a quality of living issue for residents. You could get cheaper police services, but you’re not going to get the number of people we have now providing services. The sheriffs will come in and give you a barebones minimum. But you’re not going to get the service you get from our officers.

Do you and your officers specialize in certain areas?

We have task forces. We would assign people to L.A. Impact or Southwest Borders.  L.A. Impact is a task force made up from different cities in L.A. County. A lot of cities put a body on the task force. And they go out and do major task force investigations. Major narcotics investigations. They are kind of the big boys of the narcotics investigations. They are one of the biggest task forces in the U.S.

Who represents us on that L.A. Impact team?

The officer is Josh Wells. He’s actually a La Verne officer, but he works in L.A. every day.  He’s a canine handler. The dog is ours. His name is Maverick. He smells for drugs. Together, they work a lot of the distribution centers like UPS, usually out of Burbank or L.A.

On La Verne’s dime?

We get reimbursed for overtime. If we do a seizure, based on the dog sniffing money or dope, we get a percentage of the forfeiture. There’s some amount of money we get back.

 

LVPD headquarters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CRIME

Have we become a safer or less safe community?

I wouldn’t say less safe, but crime has increased. As a result of Prop 47 and AB 109 — and now you have Prop 57, which hasn’t kicked in, but will — a bunch of criminals have been released into the society. We have seen our calls for service jump considerably. It’s noticeable. It’s keeping our guys busy. Crime across the state has jumped. In burglaries alone, I think we were up 25 percent, Arcadia, 30 percent. All the cities, San Dimas, Glendora, they’ve all seen a jump in crime.

I was at a meeting where the Feds did their crime stats, and California had the biggest increase in crime in the country, starting from the Central Valley down to the border. Before Prop 47, you had drug rehab programs and now you don’t.

Can police alone stop this rising tide?

I always tell people that it’s no longer a police issue. People have to get involved as neighbors. They know what’s going on in their neighborhood. They know who belongs there and who drives what car. They know who belongs in what house. And when they see something suspicious, they need to call us. A lot of times, they see things happen, but they formulate a reason for not calling us. By the time we get there, someone’s house has been broken into. And we’ll talk to a neighbor after the fact and they’ll say, “Oh yeah, we saw this guy, but we didn’t want to call you guys. We didn’t want to bother you.” But that’s why we’re here. Let us go figure out if there’s something going on or not. People need to get involved in their neighborhood and talk to their neighbors so they know what’s going on.

Are residents who live in gated communities any safer than those who live outside the gates?

I think if someone wants to get into a gated community, they’re going to get into it. The gates might stop the people who aren’t your professional crooks. But if someone wants to get in there and commit a crime, they’ll find a way to get in. I don’t think the gates are going to stop somebody intent on committing a crime.

What are the majority of calls that your officers are responding to?

The majority of calls are property crimes. Thefts from stores. Target and Kohls are the two major ones.

Don’t they have cameras to deter such crimes?

They have full security cameras in there. And they have loss prevention people on the floor, but people still do it. Property crimes, burglaries, home burglaries. Like I said, they’re on the rise.

What are the biggest problem areas from a geographical standpoint?

Usually the Foothill Blvd. corridor. The shopping centers in there. Theft from cars in there.

Any decreases in crime?

No, not really. With Prop 47, I think it’s only going to increase more.

Does La Verne have a particular crime problem — gangs, drugs, speeding … ?

We don’t have a gang problem. We do have people speeding down their street. That’s in every city. As far as drugs, the biggest drug we come across is meth. But I understand opiates are becoming a big deal, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it out this way.

Are you seeing new types of crimes that you didn’t see, perhaps, five or 10 years ago?

No, it’s been pretty steady. Obviously, the big increase is your internet crimes. The other crime is people getting calls, saying you owe money to the IRS. And you need to pay right now or you’re going to get arrested. They’ll tell the person to go buy gift cards in this amount and call us back and give us the account number, and people will do it. They’ll go out and buy a couple of thousand dollars worth of gift (debit) cards. People fall for that.

How is the freeway impacting crime?

People thought the freeway was going to increase crime in town, but it really didn’t. The things that are creating more crimes are the propositions.

Who has jurisdiction for the freeway that runs through town?

The CHP. We do assist them. If they ask for assistance on the freeway, our fire department responds. The freeway creates access for criminals, but really the freeway is not a big deal.

Have we ever had a crime-free day in La Verne?

Oh yeah. Some days we’re very very slow. You may have one little thing here or two.

How are you policing today versus 10 years ago?

For me, it’s getting to work with the community. There’s technology out there. When I started as a cop, we didn’t have half the technology that’s in the cars now. So officers have a variety of ways to solve crimes. You’ve got computers in the car, license-plate readers in the car. You have cameras and phones in the car. All kinds of things. So the technology has made it easier to solve some crimes.

We can go out there on the scene and take their fingerprints and five minutes we’ll know who we’re dealing with.

People consent to that?

Well, it depends on the situation. If they’re driving a car and they don’t have any ID, you’re supposed to have a driver’s license. We don’t need to have their consent.

What about the license plate-reading cameras that I’ve read about?

Those have been a big help. We are catching a lot of stolen cars. Our stolen cars have increased and our catching of those stolen cars has increased because of those cameras. They are a big help.

Is it easy to steal a car?

Cars are easy to steal if you know how to do it. They can steal a car in 10 seconds, especially with all the remote control start-ups. There was a video put out of these guys going through a dealership with a computer, and it’s reading the codes on the car, and they’d just take off with the cars.

What’s the biggest strain on your resources today?

It’s the greater number of calls we’re handling as a result of the Props.

So have response times dropped?

It hasn’t affected us that much. We still respond in about three minutes or under. For our size police department, that’s a good response time.

 

 

As we grow, are we becoming easier or harder to police?

It’s not easier. You have to know what you’re looking for. And know where to look.

How does your department think regionally, in the event of, say, an earthquake or terrorist incident?

Obviously our primary responsibility would be the city, but we also belong to regional groups that handle big situations like that. And our fire department also does a lot of training with that as well. We do work in a regional sense. We are a regional swat team. With a small city like ours that makes sense.

Do we still have that helicopter eye-in-the-sky program?

We don’t belong to that anymore. It was a little too costly.

What percentage of crime is homegrown and what percentage comes from outside the community?

I think we have a little bit of both. I’ve never broken it down. But a lot of these home burglaries –what they call knock-knock burglars — come from the outside. There are groups that come from mostly L.A., and the Long Beach area. They go around the back of the home, smash a window and get their stuff. It’s been proven that these are groups that mostly come from parts of L.A.

What about the department’s interaction with our schools?

We have a pretty good relationship with the school district. They fund part of the school resource officer position. He’s (Frankie Cambero) assigned to the high school, but he responds to all of the schools. We are lucky from the standpoint we have good schools and don’t have a lot of crime in them. Once in awhile, we’ll come across some kids who have some illegal stuff like pot or something like that, but nothing really major.

Are parents doing enough or do they even know what their kids are up to?

Frankie does a good job talking to parents on a daily basis. We are actually in the process of putting together an educational program for parents that is going to come out next year, that deals with drugs and what parents should look for. We’ve done it in the past. We also do the “Every 15 Minutes” program every two years (Somebody dies every 15 minutes as the result of a DUI driver).

That involves drugs as well, and now with Prop 64 passing, there’s a misunderstanding as to what is legal and what isn’t as far as marijuana goes. People think you can smoke pot in public, and you can’t. If you’re a juvenile, it’s still illegal. The city does have an ordinance where you’re not allowed to grow marijuana in the city.

Not one plant? Zero tolerance?

Right. So you see kids out there smoking pot and they say, “It’s legal.” No, it’s not.

So if an officer came upon that situation, is he hauling the kids off to jail?

It’s up to the discretion of the police officer. It depends. If the kid is cooperative and cool about it, the officer might let them go. If they’re not, they can cite them. It’s not really an arrestable offense anymore unless you have a really large amount, but it’s not even a misdemeanor now. It’s just an infraction. You give them a ticket and let them go.

RSVP Marvin Westin was awarded the Jack Huntington “Pride of La Verne” award for his outstanding volunteer service.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Is there something this department does extremely well, that you’re not afraid to boast about.

I think it’s our customer service, if you compare us to other communities. Our prior chief (Scott Pickwith) had a policy or saying, “No call too small.” I’m carrying that on. I want the best service that we can provide the community. I want to keep that up. People live in La Verne for a reason, and they expect a certain type of service from us, so we need to provide that service.

A lot of the officers live in the city, so I ask them, “How would you like the police to treat you?”

Any other issues or initiatives that are on the front burner with you?

Right now, we’re trying to get the community aware of the impact of Prop 47 and AB 109, and getting people to talk to their representatives, their senators and congressmen, anybody they can talk to who has some power, and let them know these things aren’t working. There is a lot of crime out here that is being committed by people who shouldn’t be on the street because they’re criminals. I think these propositions were packaged real nice and sold to people. It’s not just me, but all the chiefs are trying to get people motivated to make some noise. Officers are getting injured and even killed because of this — look at Whittier, the guy was an AB 109er who was let out on supervised probation. They had a chance to violate (arrest) him several times and they didn’t, and he ends up killing the officer and his cousin.

The thing is, people in Sacramento look at the numbers because they need to relieve overcrowding, because we’re under federal mandate to do that. But they took the easy way out.  Instead of building more prisons, they decided to let prisoners out and they say we’re only going to let out those who didn’t have a serious felony. But what they didn’t tell people is the release was based on their last arrest. So their last arrest could have been a petty theft, but what they had before in their history could have been a rape or a burglary. And they’re letting those people out. People didn’t read the small print and now we’re all paying for it. We’ve had guys who we’ve arrested who had 10 citations in their pocket for the same crime because they know they aren’t going to get arrested. There’s no accountability. If you were a crook, this would be like heaven.

How do you measure your department’s success? Come say, next December, after a year on the job, what’s the report card going to say.

There was a poll taken recently asking residents about their satisfaction with the La Verne Police Department. And we came in at 96 percent. That’s pretty high. That’s one way we measure. We have a lot of people on our Facebook page who compliment us and the service we provide.

Does anything about this job still surprise you?

I still get surprised by what some people do. Humans come up with weird things sometimes.

What do people least understand about what you do?

I don’t think they understand the pressure officers are under to make life-and-death decisions sometimes, because what you see in the media can be a snippet of what actually occurred. And they base their whole belief on that one or two-second video. But they don’t know the whole perspective.

I think also — not the media, but Hollywood — has given a really bad perspective of what law enforcement is. You see these TV shows where the cops are involved in arresting somebody and they have to use their gun and shoot the suspect in the leg. And then you have people in the news whose loved ones have been shot and killed and they say, “Why couldn’t they have shot them in the leg?” Because we’re not trained that way. It’s hard to hit a moving target, let alone try to hit someone in the big toe or something. So I think Hollywood has skewed the public’s perception of law enforcement, and it hasn’t done us any good.

Any last parting messages letting people know there’s a new sheriff, I mean, chief, in town?

I think the message is, it’s not only the police who are going to solve crimes. It’s going to take everybody. Every resident who lives in La Verne has got to be aware of what’s taking place in their neighborhood. And they need to call us when they see something suspicious. Three officers on the beat per shift are not enough to cover 33,000 thousand residents. As a community, La Verne is known for being safe, but it’s a hard job that has to be done by everybody.

Anything else keeping you up at night?

Nowadays, it’s just worrying about one of my officers getting shot or killed.

Have we ever lost an officer in the line of duty?

No, we’ve had a couple of officers who were shot, but they survived. But we’ve never had one killed. We’ve had shootings and stuff happen. But that is probably my biggest worry because of all the stuff going on and all these prisoners being released. Some of these guys coming out of the prison system all they do is train every day to kill police officers, so that’s what I worry about.

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One Response to “Q&A WITH LA VERNE POLICE CHIEF NICK PAZ: ‘People Didn’t Read the Small Print and Now We’re All Paying For It’”

  1. The chief said when it comes to calling La Verne PD that “no call is too small”— HORSE FEATHERS!
    Trying to get La Verne PD to come out and respond to a call for anything less than a murder is like trying to negotiate to buy a car. A standard response is, “not a police matter”.

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