By Jim Tortolano
On our television sets and computer screens we’ve watched – more than once – cell phone video of a law enforcement officer beating, abusing or, in one especially notorious case, killing an unarmed man who pleaded for his life.
Garden Grove Police Chief Tom DaRe doesn’t think you’ll ever see that sort of misconduct on any screen in the City of Youth and Ambition, or in most Pacific Coast cities.
“We’re taking about an incident that happened in the Midwest,” he said during an interview at the GGPD facility. “I can tell you that we’re progressive in our policing. California is so far ahead of the rest of the nation.”
In the recent case of the death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the man’s neck for almost nine minutes, while he gasped “I can’t breathe,” DaRe doubts that such an event could ever happen in the GGPD.
“The media want to talk about the 19 incidents [that Chauvin was involved in before Floyd’s death],” he said. But “we have an early warning system” intended to weed out police officers with a pattern of abuse.
“There have been officers who stepped over the line and we’ve terminated them,” he said. “We hold our officers to very high standards.”
Officers are well-trained not only in finding and arresting suspects, but also in de-escalation of conflicts, thorough review of violent incidents and an emphasis on doing the right thing even if it goes against the “blue code” that is present in some departments.
“We preach taking care of your partner,” he said. “If you see his knee on the guy’s neck, move that knee. Take care of your partner by not getting him in trouble.”
DaRe emphasizes community policing, which comes easy to him, perhaps, because he grew up in Garden Grove.
He attended Garden Grove High School, graduating in 1986. After a stint in the U.S. Army as a cavalry scout, he joined the GGPD as a police cadet and also got a job in the city’s public works department, maintaining parks.
He eventually joined the force in 1990 and rose through the ranks from reserve officer all the way up to chief in April 2019.
For him, the role of police officer even goes a step past community policing. “My family lives in this city. I want these officers to treat these people as you would want your family treated.”
Garden Grove police received high marks for how the recent Black Lives Matter protest unfolded in the city on June 3. The demonstration was originally planned to take place in front of City Hall, but there was a shift. The new plan was for a march around the city from the Village Green Park south on Main Street, along Garden Grove Boulevard to Brookhurst Street, then along Chapman Avenue and back along Euclid Street.
“They wanted to change on the fly. We felt it was reasonable,” said DaRe. “Things got a little tense at Brookhurst and Chapman [where some kneeled in the street] and so we requested mutual aid from other cities.”
But the result was far from tragic. “There were no arrests, no vandalism, no rioting, no looting,” he said.
That was a departure from what happened when Garden Grove police went into nearby cities to offer mutual aid. “Officers took bricks to the head, one was hit in the chest; one brick went through the window of one of our units.”
The chief ticks off areas in which the GGPD has had successes, including working with the homeless, hiring a mental health worker to accompany officers, and the use of the “broken windows” theory to head off crime by dealing with small problems before they become big ones.
However, he is frustrated with two recent developments: the decriminalization of drugs and the downgrading of some offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
“The people of California have voted to legalize marijuana. But when it comes to coke, meth, heroin, that’s ludicrous,” he said. He believes that some drugs cause mental illness, including psychosis. Not only does the need for money to feed addictions create more crime, but also under new laws, the arrestees can’t be booked. “We are arresting the same people over and over again,” according to DaRe.
“And now we have to deal with the consequences. Our officers each carry nasal Narcan,” used to save the lives of people who have overdosed on opiods.
Lt. Carl Whitney, public information and training officer, commented, “We have a great department. Our response time is under five minutes.” The force is now 182 sworn officers, the most in city history.
DaRe knows that in an era of intense public scrutiny, body cameras and cell phone video, there will be some slips.
“They’re human,” he said of his officers. “Mistakes are going to be made. The thing to do is to minimize them and learn from them.”
Categories: Garden Grove