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By Kristina Pritchett

Across the country, police officers have been shown in the media in videos, photos and social media posts. There have been stories about officers shot and killed during duty, and there have been some about unrest following shootings of unarmed people by police.

Such emotional events have caused many people to pick sides, but events like Aug. 2’s National Night Out, an annual event that brings the community and police together, seek to open the discussion in order to find real solutions.

The Dana Point Times sat down with Lt. Russ Chilton of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in the wake of National Night Out for a Q&A to discuss how he sees local law enforcement working with the community to create better relationships..

Q: How long have you been working in the city?

Chilton: I started here as a patrol deputy in 1988, and then I left the city in 2002 when I got elected to City Council. And then I came back as a Field Sgt. in 2011, and then I came back as the Chief in April 2014.

I have a long history with the city, I live here, and I’ve raised my family here.

I’ve been here for more than 30 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes, and it’s all been for the better. I think the city is going in the right direction.”

Q: Did being on City Council give you a different perspective?

Chilton: It helps me with this job, because it gives you an understanding of that side of the dais.

Q: Has communication between residents and police gotten better in the city?

Chilton: Absolutely, we have a very good working relationship with the groups in the city.

Q: Are there certain things residents can do to work with police?

Chilton: What happens a lot of times is that I hear about an incident a few days after the incident occurs, and what we have is under reporting because people feel that they don’t want to bother us. I can’t do much after three or four days, the mere fact is to pick up the phone and call. That’s what we’re here for. Let us determine if the situation (requires police action). If you think it’s suspicious, it may be or it may not be.

What we need to do, if we want a true picture of what’s going on in our community, I can’t go on perception. For instance, a situation will come to my attention where some business people or community members will call. I’d do a call history and not see much phone activity, I look at that data almost daily and that’s really how I take our resources and redirect them into certain areas. It’s kind of hard to get on top of that.

We’ve very fortunate in Dana Point, we have community services—three deputies and a crime prevention specialist—that I have at my disposal to work on certain issues in the community as they arise. Not every city has that.

We have a very supportive City Council and manager that understand the importance of a safe community.

Q: What types of departments does the city’s police service have?

Chilton: Our K-9 program is regional, and they’re all over the county. They’re all assigned regionally, so there’ll always be a K-9 available to every city. We have a bomb squad; we have a hostage negotiation team, a dive team, a SWAT team. That’s one of the positive aspects of contracting with the Sheriff’s Department, there are a number of resources you can have at your disposal.

Q: Are there certain areas of the city that police are seeking more of a need for patrol?

Chilton: No, we’re seeing an uptake in crime city-wide. A lot of it is property crime. Anytime you see crime trends, there are many factors associated why crime is going up or why crime is going down. The discussion right now is the passage of Prop 47. When Prop 47 passed, we immediately began to see an increase in property crimes. I can’t say that’s the only reason we’re seeing an increase, but I definitely think it’s a factor that we need to look at.

Taking a look at our property crimes, a lot of the stuff that’s stolen is stolen from unlocked vehicles, opened garage doors. We have a saying here in Dana Point, ‘Hide it, lock it or lose it.’ That’s really what I want to stress to people, don’t leave your laptops, wallets, money in your cars and lock the doors.

Q: It seems like it doesn’t really matter where you live; you should do that, correct?

Chilton: You can be in Dana Point, Beverly Hills; even if you’re in a gated community you should still take precautions.

Q: With everything going on regarding officers, has there been support from the community?

Chilton: What you see on the news is very challenging for law enforcement right now. Everyone has a smartphone, and before the facts are even put together, it goes global. Everyone is already forming an opinion without having all the facts, which is difficult.

There has been an outpour from the community. Everyone seems to be very pleased with the services. I can’t really say we’re experiencing what other agencies are. I think when you look into these instances at the end of the day, it comes down to a few things: standards and training and community-based policing. We’re very fortunate; the state of California has some of the highest standards for officers in training. When I started this career, 31 years ago, the academy was like 11 weeks long, now it’s six months.

Are we perfect? No, we’re not. We’re part of the human race. You just take care of the issues as they arise.

I’m very proud of the men and women who work in this department.

Q: Have residents been coming by to thank the officers?

Chilton: Yes, it’s been really nice when you begin to see people from the community who don’t normally have contact with the officers who are so grateful.

Q: Like at National Night Out?

Chilton: It was a good event. That’s a national event to get people out of their homes and into a common area where you can get to know your neighbors.

The reality is, we can’t be everywhere, and one of the cornerstones to community-based policing is a strong neighborhood watch program. I encourage people to take the time to know their neighbors and look out for each other.

Q: Do you see that happening more now in the city?

Chilton: Yes, I have a wonderful crime prevention specialist; she’s rebuilding the neighborhood watch program.

Interestingly, 30 years ago neighborhood watch was, when I was admin deputy in town, I would go to meetings and potlucks, but the world is different now and people don’t really communicate that way. You’ll see a lot of communication via smart devices, the app right now is Next Door. That’s an app (on which) people are communicating with their neighbors. We all lead a busy life, but we sometimes don’t have time, but we really should slow down and take some time to know the people on your street.

I will always sit down and make the time to speak with residents anytime, anywhere. It all starts with communication.

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About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (1)

  • Awesome ! I have always thought people and the police should be more friendly . A simple waive , smile or nod should be the norm in such a small town when crossing paths, from the police and or the citizen . We are all friends , I recently had contact with one of the deputies over a problem at a business , most likely from a homeless person ( using the pavement as a toilet ) and he was very nice, understanding and helpful !

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