This column was contributed by San Benito County Sheriff’s Office Captain Eric Taylor. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
I was always enamored with police and fire stuff. When I was a kid, I used to watch the show “Emergency!” and also “CHIPs.” I, like so many other young kids, wanted so badly to be a police officer or a firefighter. I truly believe it is a calling and not a job. When my mom was alive, she used to laugh at the fact when I was little, I would call the two-story house at the end of the street (belonging to Bruce and Betsy Woolpert) a “two-story structure” because those were the radio calls for the show “Emergency!” For the record I also named my cat “Ponch” after my then-hero, Erik Estrada.
When I was in elementary school at Moreland Notre Dame in Watsonville, my mother became a victim of a stalker who constantly threatened to take me. He would know what our movements were each moment of the day, describe what we were wearing, and tell my mom the many opportunities he had to take me. I was pulled out of school and kept at home for a period of time while the Watsonville Police Department tapped our phones, traced calls, and chased possible suspects. It was terrifying. I was not allowed to go in public or play outside. The sisters from the convent at Notre Dame School would come to my house each day and comfort my family. I am forever grateful for that.
However, I never felt safer, nor a more profound sense of relief, as I felt when Detective Montoya would show up each day and set up his monitoring equipment. He was a tall man with dark hair and great suits. He had an aura about him of being protective. He had cool gadgets in his brief case and would tell me he was going to catch the guy who was terrorizing us. It was only when he was there that I could go play outside and was actually able to sleep soundly. He was my hero. I waited each day for him to arrive.
When that ordeal was over, I knew I wanted to be a policeman. I was so thankful for him, and the Watsonville Police Department for keeping my family safe, grounded, and sane. It was then I knew it was the job for me. No doubt. I knew, at that young age, I wanted to bring peace and comfort to others in the same manner.
The reason I tell that story is because I feel there are many like me who do this job for similar reasons. They don’t do it for the pay (though it is nice), or the benefits (nice also), or for power or status. They do it to serve their community and someday be able to impact even one person in the way Detective Montoya impacted me. They truly do it to protect and serve all in our community. You should expect peace officers, especially department leadership, to do this job for their community and not for “self-serving” reasons or ego.
So much of policework, and other forms of law enforcement have become increasingly politicized. One side attempting to influence lawmakers, legislators, and elected officials to use the power of the police for their agenda, or for their mission. Or to strip the power all-together. And some of the points are valid…there are bad cops out there that need to go.
That puts those of us doing the policing for the right reasons in a tough position. We cannot choose sides based on our personal preferences or beliefs. We lose relationships and friendships over the perceptions of our actions and often split-second decisions. We get into arguments with our spouses and immediate family over how they would have “done it different.” It is hard to please everyone when we will almost always be upsetting someone. I can assure you, there are always two sides.
We are lucky here in San Benito County that many of our deputies live here. Their kids go to school here, play sports here, our spouses work here, and our extended families live here. We are required to intervene in local family secrets and keep them to ourselves. We know the bad things that happen in our community and are sworn to secrecy. We may be shopping or eating next to someone we had to fight into handcuffs the night prior. We may encounter the grieving families of those we have had to help with a deceased family member just a short time prior. It really is a blessing, and a curse.
With the advent of social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, we are constantly bombarded with scandal, racism, use of force controversy, and hatred. Everybody has their own ideas of how the police should do things. Oversight is always a good thing. We should be held accountable for our actions, or inactions.
My staff is expected to get back to the basics of policing. To serve and protect with honor, dignity, and humility. Not to be motivated by political action. We will continue to focus on criminal activity, victimization, and will remove criminals from our community and make a genuine effort to rehabilitate them. Our staff will be present at community events and presentations. We will take time to explain what we do, why we do it, and ask for your support. We will integrate ourselves with community-based organizations to come up with new and innovative solutions to impact families before criminal activity takes root.
At a time where our nation has been heavily divided, I want you all to know we have a great group of men and women serving you and protecting you. They are here to do the right thing, then the next right thing. They are here to keep you safe from crime, and to be a conduit to other services you may need. Yes, we are short staffed, but that is no excuse to fail to provide respectful service to all of you. If you believe you have not received the service you needed, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (831) 636-4087.