In last week’s column I wrote about the wild, wooly days of the National City Police Department in the 70s. I wrote the column because I don’t believe in revisionist history. I believe in telling it like it is, or was, like it or not. The term, “political correctness” hadn’t even been coined, and the National City cops weren’t politically correct. Some of the things that happened weren’t right, but they happened.
With the arrival of proactive, progressive-thinking chiefs such as Terry Hart, things changed. The National City police came kicking and screaming into the 20th century, and they have done a good job.
Few people know that National City is the second oldest city in the county. In July, 2004, Adolfo Gonzales became the 16th Chief of Police in the city’s 121-year history.
A native of Chula Vista, back when the Montgomery area was in the unincorporated portion of the county, Gonzales joined the San Diego Police Department where he toiled for 26 years.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in public administration from National University, Gonzales earned post-graduate degrees from SDSU (masters in Education) and USD (Doctorate of Education).
The recent chiefs who came before Gonzales began laying the groundwork for the present success of the city that formerly had a reputation more of confrontation with the citizens than of helping them.
Gonzales picked up the ball and even gained considerable yardage in the field of public relations while continuing to ensure the safety of the citizens.
The economy has hit National City just as hard as the rest of the county. The “Mile of Cars” could now be renamed “The Half-Mile of Cars.” The departure of Dixieline Lumber’s Truss yard has also contributed to a much smaller tax base.
Due to frugal managing, the city has been able to weather much of the trouble with only minor pain. The police department is down only a few bodies. They have been able to avert layoffs due to a hiring freeze and giving retirement incentives to eligible employees. The officers also now pay into the retirement system, a departure from when the city paid the employees’ portion.
The cutbacks have resulted in a longer police response time, but that is prevalent throughout the nation. Belts have been tightened in the school resource program with patrol officers picking up the slack and adopting schools on their beats.
Chief Gonzales believes in discussing issues before they become problems. He meets with the Police Officers’ Association regularly. In a departure from what happens in Chula Vista, the POA also meets with the city manager of National City once a month.
Gonzales boasts that many of his officers now live in the city, or at least in the South Bay. Along with public safety, Gonzales’s goal is to form a strong bond with the citizens, and to promote diversity within the department.
For example, a local lowrider group meets regularly in the community meeting room within the police building.
Due to an influx of homeless with the attending problems, the police work closely with the district attorney’s office on the homeless task force.
Although the police station is getting along in years, it is a far cry from the dingy, dungeon-like edifice across the street the department vacated years ago. I received the cook’s tour of the police station from Sgt. Parris Bull.
The dispatch center is a modern facility with closed circuit monitors focusing on the exterior of the building and on a trouble spot in the neighborhood.
It’s not a complete love fest though. Chief Gonzales said the Police Officers Association is a formidable organization that fiercely protects its members. They question authority and work tirelessly to ensure the members are treated fairly, just like they should.
Yes, the old days are gone, but they weren’t especially “the good old days.”