An Exclusive Conversation with Emeryville Police Department Chief Ken James

45 mins read

You may have read some recent regional news about Emeryville being labeled “a dangerous city” but if you sift through the data and actually talk to residents, they’ll generally tell a different story of their experience with the Ken James led Emeryville Police Department. One thing that can’t be refuted is the EPD’s consistently high eighty percentile approval ratings and enviable response times. Even opinion blogger Brian Donahue of the Emeryville Tattler (who generally has very few positive things to say about our city) concurred in this 2013 interview regarding policing that “I’d say it’s probably the thing this town does best”.

Sixteen year Emeryville Police Department Chief Ken James graciously agreed to an exclusive interview with The E’ville Eye covering his combined forty year career with the EPD. Chief James takes us through the notorious John LaCoste era when he began his career as a patrol officer (A great history lesson for older and younger E’villains), his mentors, the challenges of policing a small city next to Oakland, his recent battle with so-called “second amendment defenders”, having high standards for hiring officers, and “what’s next” for him personally.

Photo Credit: Howard Dyckoff, Oakland Voices

Note: We held this interview back in Sept. but just recently finished editing & transcribing it.

Listen to this interview on SoundCloud or read the transcribed version below:

EE: I’m here at the Emeryville Police Station on Powell Street. You’ve been the police chief since 1998, so that’s 16 years. Prior to that you were involved in Emeryville policing …

KJ: I’ve been an Emeryville police officer since 1975.

EE: 1975? Okay. 2012 top cop, award winner as well so I’m sure there’s many accolades. I just peeked around your office here and looked at them.

KJ: It wasn’t a top cop award. The California Police Chief’s Association gives an award annually. It’s called the Joseph Malloy Award after an Anaheim chief that died in the line of duty, had a heart attack in the line of duty. They give it to the chief that they feel represents the association and gives value and is an asset to the association and in 2012 the outgoing president named me as the Malloy Award winner.

EE: Nice. It’s still an honor.

KJ: It’s an honor, but it’s not the top chief honor. It is the highest award that California Police Chiefs Association award, but it is just a California Police Chief’s award.

EE: It’s still nice, it’s good to get validation you know? You’ve been doing this for a long time and congratulations. Is one of these awards in fact the one we speak of?

KJ: Yes. Most of the other ones are golf tournaments.

EE: Not only are you passionate at the policing, passionate at the game of golf.

KJ: Oh yeah, I play golf.

EE: Okay so let’s take it back here to the beginning. Where are you from originally? Unfortunately I did the search and you’re a little bit of a ghost, Ken. There are some things out there but I can’t paint a complete picture of your life at this point. Where are you from originally?

KJ: Originally I’m from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. We left there when I was in the seventh grade and moved to California. Southern California. I went to junior high school in Southern California and high school and college in Northern California at Hayward.

EE: Did your sports passions stay in Pittsburgh, though?

KJ: Not any longer, actually. I was a Pirate fan until probably the mid 80’s and a Steeler fan, probably about the same time.

EE: It was an easy time to be a Pittsburgh fan …

KJ: Yeah but then the San Francisco’s and the Oakland teams took over.

EE: Again, I’m looking at your awards and your personal belongings here. I see San Francisco Giants Stein …

KJ: Yeah, somebody had given me that so it goes up there. Everything that’s up there has been given to me from somebody … except the pictures.

EE: Yeah, of course. Okay, what pulled you into law enforcement? Where did the actual law enforcement start and begin? Was your dad a cop? What got you into policing?

KJ: No, I’m the only one in my family. Well, my uncle was a county detective in Pittsburgh.

EE: Okay. Was he influential?

KJ: No. In fact, the county detective, when he was a county detective, was a political appointment. His peace officer powers ended when the person that appointed him lost, or was removed. He wasn’t removed from office but was no longer in office and the next person was in. I don’t know whether it was his supervisor, a board of supervisors or whatever appointed it, but it was a political appointment. His actual career was in the steel mills as a firefighter in the steel mills in Pittsburgh.

EE: It’s not in the blood, in other words.

KJ: It’s not in the blood. When I was finishing up my college, I started thinking, “What am I going to do? My degree is in business administration with a focus in accounting” and I just couldn’t see myself sitting in an office with a visor on, looking at numbers every day. I was kind of looking at something that was going to be a challenge. Both physically and mentally on a daily basis. Law enforcement seemed like it because you come to work every day, you don’t know what you’re going to face. It could be a slow day, nothing happens and you have nothing occur. The next day you may be going from call to call to call and saving lives and catching robbers and things like that.

EE: It’s not something you sought out, not the other way around.

KJ: Yeah. It’s something that attracted me and as I got towards graduation in college I was married my senior year, my wife and I, we had gotten married.

EE: Where’d you go to college, by the way?

KJ: Cal State East Bay. It was Hayward at the time.

EE: Cal East Bay?  Oh wow, okay. So you definitely got some East Bay in your blood.

KJ: Oh, yeah. Hayward and all of the East Bay mainly. She [my wife] was working in an emergency room in Hayward with another woman whose husband was a Sergeant in Oakland at the time. I had a few conversations with him, went on a ride along with him and said, “This is what I want to do.” Early ’75 I became a reserve at San Leandro.

EE: That’s kind of the ‘foot in the door’?

KJ: Well it’s getting some experience. I was taking tests and in actuality, Emeryville was one of the very first tests I took. That was in 1974 and was put on the list and it was ultimately hired off the list, but there were 11 of us hired off of that list. I was in the second. There were five in the first phase, six in the second phase, nine months apart. I was hired and in the interim I was going through testing processes with various agencies that were looking for it and like I said, the reserve in San Leandro just to get some experience and see what it was like. July 1st of ’75 I was hired in Emeryville and that was my first day.

EE: The version of Emeryville in 1974 is not one we would recognize today.y

KJ: You would definitely not have any clue of what it would look like back then.

EE: Yeah. Was crime, in that regard, a little more intense? Because of the industrial nature? There weren’t as many residents, so…

KJ: No. In reality, crime was not an issue in Emeryville. The city was a very well-funded city at the time. It paid well here, as if that was really a contributing factor to becoming a cop. When you’re bordered on two sides by Oakland and one side by Berkeley, you’re going to have the spillover of the crime, but we were not as attractive of a property crime area as as we are now. Mainly the biggest issues at that time were San Pablo Avenue between 36th and Park. We had as many as six card rooms.

EE: Yeah and a lot of bars …

KJ: Yeah. But more so the card rooms. The only bar along that stint at that point, well there were two. There were Bosses (sp?) Pizza and then the one that’s there now. I can’t think of the name right now. That’s where age comes in.

EE: Yeah. So 1974, I should probably have researched this more, but was this in fact John Lacoste era? Or was he already gone?

KJ: John Lacoste…

EE: He was your first…?

KJ: He was my first chief.

EE: colorful time for Emeryville, you know, his reputation precedes him.

KJ: I think that, yeah, it was a colorful time for Emeryville. There were a lot of things. Emeryville was colorful before Lacoste became chief Simply because it had the legalized gambling.

EE: The town without a church, you know?

KJ: A town without a church. When you have the Alameda County District Attorney. This was prior to ’64, but who went on to become the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, calling it ‘the armpit of the West Coast’, there were a lot of things going on. The brothels, the underground gambling clubs and things that were going on. In actuality, Lacoste was the turning point to start the city going into a better direction.

EE: So he deserves some credit. His methods ultimately you got ahead of him but maybe it was necessary at that time?

KJ: His ethics were not the best, as far as I was concerned. One of the things that he promised council that he would do was clean up San Pablo Avenue for the street walkers.

EE: And he did?

KJ: He did, but at the same time, I don’t think that he ever did it for personal monetary gain, but he became, with the base that you had in Emeryville between the industry and the gambling establishments and everything, he became a very well-known fundraiser for the democratic party.

EE: Yeah. That’ll get people’s attention. You can only go under the radar so long …

KJ: And I think that he utilized his position here to raise funds. President Jimmy Carter’s Chief of Staff visited in Emeryville on at least three different occasions. Jimmy Carter, he didn’t visit Emeryville, John had pictures of himself with Jimmy when he came to Oakland and things like that. The only thing is, we also overheard that he was known as the West Coast Pimp to the Democratic Party.

EE: Oh wow, I’ve never heard that.

KJ: When they would come out here, John would arrange dates with them. For them. Chip Carter had a couple dates with waitresses at the townhouse. As a result of it. Yeah.

EE: That would’ve been a great history piece. If Jimmy Carter had indeed visited and that reputation had… Anyway, but I digress.

KJ: Yes. He was my first chief.

EE: A mentor, in some regards? Give us an idea of your personal policing philosophy and where it came from.

KJ: It did not come from John.

EE: Okay. He taught you a few things not to do.

KJ: The only thing and it didn’t come directly from John, it came from a Sergeant at that time and I was brand new and I said, “What is the department’s off duty weapons policy?” And the Sergeant took me aside and he says, “Look, we don’t have any policy. We don’t require you to carry a gun off duty.” He says, “But realize you’re in a very, very small city and everybody knows who the cops are and you don’t want to embarrass the chief of police because when something happens and you’re not prepared to react to it.”

That made sense to me that you don’t want to embarrass the chief of police, so you want to be ready to do your job and you want to do it right.

EE: Be prepared, show respect for your superiors, per say.

KJ: You’ve got to understand that John Lacoste, from my point of view, had two different careers here in Emeryville for two different personalities. When he first became chief and when I was hired, John was about making the Emeryville Police Department one of the best that it could be made. As we progressed in and by the early 1980’s and up until the time that he was removed from his position…

EE: Forcibly?

KJ: Forcibly.

EE: Okay. You remember that day?

KJ: Oh yeah. He had turned around a little bit, became paranoid. Nothing could be done in the Police Department without his approval. He played favorites with those that would do things and he just didn’t seem right when officers were on duty, were out driving these cars with the megaphones on top as supporting a political, somebody that was running for office.

EE: It’s hard to imagine.

KJ: But it happened here. It happened here. In reality, he was forced on. It was his ethics that forced him out. He became too entrenched in the politics of the town. The way the town worked, you wouldn’t have recognized then as opposed to now because the department heads, we did not have the city administrator, we did not have a city manager. Each department head answered directly to council, the five members of council.

When it came budget time it was a free for all and John played the politics of making sure that at least he, as an assured way of doing it he had three votes on council at any time. Either by supporting them in election or whatever. His father had been on the council for 28 years and Mayor, at that time, for 28 years. The political atmosphere was right for the type of ethical issues that he had.

In fact it was after council took action to place him on administrative leave and remove him from office that we moved into the council city manager form of government that we have today.

If you were looking at the municipal code you would see the date that that ordinance came into effect.

EE: But you didn’t take over for him at that point?

KJ: No, not at all. I was just patrol officer. Actually I was an acting sergeant. I had been an acting Sergeant for two years and was city number one on the list, we had openings and John wouldn’t promote me. What he said is, “Ken James could just keep his mouth shut I’d promote him.”

EE: You’re a little too vocal, all right. It’s good to have opinions.

KJ: Yeah. He would do things like, we needed positions, we had a dispatcher here that had been a reserve in Berkeley and he just made him a cop. No testing procedures, no nothing. Just made him a cop. That’s exactly what it was and that didn’t go over well with the rest of us because he wasn’t the best candidate for a cop. He wasn’t a very good cop, as a result. At one point…

EE: Favors like that impact morale …

KJ: Yeah and at one point, in my sarcastic wit way of doing it, I saw John in the hallway one day and I said, “Hey John can you do me a favor?” And he says “What’s that?” I says, “Next time you hire a cop, can you at least check him for batting average? We need softball players on our team.” And he was on his way out and he immediately turned around and pulled me into his office and chewed me out for about an hour and a half.

EE: Wow. He saw that as…

KJ: Oh, yeah. He caught every bit of my sarcasm and my bite in it.

EE: Yeah. So not somebody, I don’t even know if John Lacoste is in fact still alive?

KJ: I don’t know whether he’s still alive. The last contact I had with him was when I was chief for about three years. He had a crime report filed against him in Solano County for brandishing a weapon. The District Attorney was pursuing it because they got tired, up in Fairfield and that area of Vacaville, of him producing his retired business card and getting away with things as a professional courtesy.

EE: He had been stripped of any kind of title?

KJ: Well, yeah. The deal that was made with council for his separation is that he would resign, but he was vested in the retirement system. So he left his money in there and when he turned 50 he started to draw down as if he was a retiree. That was the deal that was made, but he wasn’t given any police powers and the Chief that succeeded him, Joe Malpe, what John said to me was, “I wasn’t going to ask that Malpe for anything and I didn’t get around to asking Coletti”, who was my predecessor, for it. “But I’d like to get an ID card.” I said, “Sure. You are a retired and that was the deal. I’ll give you an ID card.” And he says, “Good.” And then he starts to tell me the story that led to the criminal charges up in Solano County.

EE: You didn’t know it was going to be used for …

KJ: I said, “Well wait a minute, John.” Because I says, “I cannot endorse you for a concealed weapons permit.” In the penal code an honorably retired police officer shall be issued a concealed weapons permit.

EE: Did he have any reason to feel threatened? That he would need a gun …

KJ: No, but he felt that if he could show that he had a concealed weapons permit and it was just that he hadn’t gotten it yet but he was entitled to it, that the charges would go away.

EE: I was thinking he got in bed with some gambling and prostitution rings.

KJ: No. He was hoping that the endorsement would allow him to. But the penal code also describes an honorably retired officer as somebody that doesn’t retire in lieu of termination and in effect he retired in lieu of termination because they were terminating him. They just allowed him to keep his status and go off into the sunset and retire at a later date.

That was the last time that I had any contact with him and then he started writing letters again and having his lawyer write letters to the city saying he was going to sue and everything else and then he went away.

EE: Well, I could write an entire article about him and maybe I will one day when I get more time. This is about you, Ken James. Yeah, a colorful time and again, we wouldn’t recognize that version of Emeryville today. Different problems now. I’m sure it’s affected your policing philosophy, it’s an evolving thing, you know? Now we’ve got shopping malls, those are becoming more of the epicenter of criminal activities so it probably changes your approach to policing.

KJ: Actually it doesn’t. The approach to policing that you get in a very small town where everybody knows who you are is, in 1975 we were doing what was called in the 1990’s, community oriented policing because we were part of the community.

It was a small community, everybody knows who you are, and you know who everybody is. It’s very close knit, you work to resolve problems and you realize that you are here for the community service that you provide. That hasn’t changed since ’75 and that’s the philosophy that I still bring and have an expectation from our officers and our employees to do it.

EE: Yeah. I walk my dog around my neighborhood on a pretty regular basis. I even see foot patrol shifts every once in a while. It kind of catches me off guard, like, Is something going on here? “No, I’m just walking around.”

KJ: As an interesting side note, I’m very proud of the Emeryville Police Department and it’s going to bring us into more of a newer era, but one of the things I’m proud of is that we are probably the only law enforcement agency in this state that has a civilian commanding the patrol division.

EE: Jeannie…

KJ: Jeannie Quan. There are civilian commanders throughout the state, but we kind of cubby hole them into administrating things, or running the professional staff. When we created the position it was equal to a Captain and when my Captain retired at the time and I was going to make a promotion, Jeannie says, “If you’re really committed to this…”

EE: Is that Joe Malpe?

KJ: No. I was the Chief then. We made the civilian commander under my realm and when about five years into it, Captain Retired and Jeannie says, “If you’re really committed to this you would allow me to take the field services division.” And I did and it was a great decision.

But all that, that was one other thing I was being, but the walking patrols, what keyed this, I attribute that to the reason that John Flores, the then city manager appointed me the Chief. In January of 1998, Joe Coletti was diagnosed with cancer and was going through that. The upside and the optimistic view was that he was going to be able to return in six months.

I was named the interim in that six months. About a month into it, Jeannie, we were sitting in a morning staff meeting and Jeannie says, “You know, what you think about creating a walking patrol?” It was her idea, her brainchild and so what we did is we implemented a procedure where we want everybody to get out of their car, not in the shopping areas, not in the commercial areas, but in the residential areas and walk around and get to know the community and say “Hi” and everything else.

We had it in place for about two weeks when John Flores calls me and says, “What are you doing over there?” I said, “What do you mean, John?” He says “I’m getting calls about officers walking in the community. In the residential area.” And he says, “They’re supportive. They just never…” I said, “John, this is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” He says, “Great. Keep it up.” And I think it was at that point, John got in his mind that if Joe Coletti doesn’t come back, I would be the Chief.

EE: Okay. And he indeed did not come back.

KJ: Yeah. In January he was diagnosed, in April the word ‘terminal’ came out and he hung on through June and he died at the end of June. The day after the funeral, which was the first of July… From the time we knew it was terminal, until he actually passed away, John would just say, “We need to talk after Joe’s gone. We need to talk, we need to talk.” The day after the funeral, he called me over to his office and said, “Do you want the job?”

EE: Wow. That’s another [transitional] time. Talk to us about defending Emeryville. A small city that borders Oakland and Berkeley. Is there a strategy that we don’t see that’s behind the scenes that you can kind of disclose to us here? We have Oakland next door, they have a lot of problems, you know? That carries on into Emeryville. Does that change your approach to the strategy of protecting Emeryville, quote unquote?

KJ: The strategy that we utilize to protect Emeryville and it isn’t my strategy, it was here in 1975 and even before that, is that we don’t go by the normal metrics in the city that a lot of cities go by as to the size of their Police Department. Normal metrics for a population of 5,000 in 1975 would not have been an 18 officer Police Department.

Normal metrics today, would not justify a 38 sworn police department and 55 overall police department. But by normal metrics, I mean officers per thousand of population. Well, our population isn’t a normal population. Our population, we are the anti-bedroom community.

We are where everybody comes to work from their bedroom community. So if we were to look at even the low figure that a lot of people estimate at 35,000, I think it’s probably larger than that. We’re right on with the number of officers that we have.

That being said for 1.2 square miles, which is about the size of a beat and a half of Oakland. We have four officers and a Sergeant. Oakland, if they’re lucky, may have two officers for that same area.

EE: Emeryville’s a weird animal. 10,000 roughly population. I’ve heard figures of as high as 40,000 daytime population.

KJ: If you use those daytime population figures, the metrics fit. Figure out, well for that type of the number of officers we have. But the fact of the matter is, is that in Oakland where they have one officer covering the same geographic area we’ll have four and possibly five. That makes a big difference in response time, response time makes a big difference in the idea of getting caught. It make a big difference of being available and visible.

That’s been Emeryville’s philosophy for the longest time, is “Let’s make sure we have the officers to maintain the level of services that is expected by the city.”

EE: Hopefully you don’t have to call the cops in Emeryville. But chances are, you live here long enough, you might. I’ve always been impressed by the speed of response time. Just makes you feel like you guys are there and ready.

KJ: The other factor is, like you said, you could be out walking your dog. You could do that in Oakland for three months and never see a cop and here you see cops on a regular basis.

EE: Yeah. Having that presence and that reassurance makes a big difference.

KJ: It’s a deterrent. It is a deterrent.

We have had people say, “Don’t go to Emeryville to do the crime. They have too many cops around.” We’ve heard that.

EE: That’s a good reputation to have. It hurts criminals.

KJ: We’ve arrested people and they’ve shaken their head and said, “I was told not to come to Emeryville to do this.”

EE: Unfortunately no one will say that about parts of Oakland, you know?

KJ: Well and quite frankly they don’t have the staffing levels to do it.

EE: Yeah. It’s not that they don’t want to, they just don’t have it and there is a little bit of a tension between some residents in some areas and the police. You know? It’s just there’s some baggage there, you know? Unfortunately.

KJ: That’s it. They don’t have the respect of the community. I wasn’t at the last council meeting when the results of the last poll were released, but I got the report back. One from my Captain that was at the council meeting and one from Brian Donahue that the results were excellent.

This was the second poll that was done. Pat O’Keefe did one right after he became city manager and we had an above 80 rating of approval. This latest poll, Brian says we were something like 88 percent approval rating.

EE: Okay. I’m going to throw my own poll in here into this article to see what we can get from The E’ville Eye community. Oakland is a whole different animal, you know? This is kind of a theoretical question, but let’s just say Ken James appointed Police Chief of Oakland. What would be the first thing that you think you would do there? Again, this is theoretical, but their problems are so deeply rooted. They went through three police chiefs, I think, in the span of a month at one point. Is there one thing, you think, that Oakland could do? Is staffing up the answer for them?

KJ: Yes. Getting up to a minimum staffing, which they’re nowhere close to, is an answer to them because unless you have the staff, you can’t take the time to build the community relationships that you need to build.

EE: Okay. That comes after. You’ve got to establish a deterrent, but then the community…

KJ: If your officers that are there are going to have no time to do anything but go from one call to the next and then write the reports and be three calls down and three reports down before they even start their shift that day, they have no time to sit with anybody in the community or walk a neighborhood or any of those things and that’s where you build the relationships.

They’re looked upon because that’s what they do. They’re in their car, the only time that you’re having a contact with them is if you’re a victim.

EE: Not best circumstances.

KJ: Not the best circumstances. You don’t see them at any other time because they’re dealing with other calls. How do you build a community relationship with it where people say, “Hey, I feel secure because I know the cops are around?”

You can’t do that. Staffing would be the first thing that they really need to do and until they…

EE: They’re trying to, they just don’t have the money to do it.

KJ: Well they have the money to do it. They’re making an effort to do it. It’s getting qualified people to do it. You have to be very careful when you’re evaluating who you’re going to ask to wear a badge and carry a gun and give them the authority to take a life. You have to be very careful at the individuals you have. If you become too pressured and you start to drop your standards, even a little bit, you end up …

EE: You end up with a Scandal that tarnishes … the one bad apple theory.

KJ: Exactly. If you look at the scandal of the early 90’s in Los Angeles and you read the result of their research, they had officers that were involved in that scandal had misdemeanor arrests in other states but they didn’t have the people to send out to the other states to check their backgrounds. They had criminals on their police department.

EE: And unfortunately, it tarnishes. There’s an effect on policing as a whole.

KJ: Exactly. So if you start to try to bring people in and you start to settle, rather than keep your standards, then you leave yourself ripe for it. They’re trying and they have the money, but there’s the individuals that are qualified to do this job are few.

EE: Okay, so they’re being a little more selective this time around. It’s going to take time.

KJ: All of us are selective and all of us are competing for this in the same candidate poll.

EE: Yeah and if I was a candidate with a job offer from Emeryville and Oakland, you know? Emeryville is a little more put together right now so you’ve…

KJ: But at the same time, the big cities seem to attract people for the excitement.

EE: Yeah. When you’re younger, probably. At some point in your career, you know? You don’t want to chase people over fences any more.

KJ: Now with that being said, our latest hire, Ross Purell came from Oakland. And when we talked to him about it he said, “I want to be a police officer in a community where the community respects what you do.”

EE: Yeah. I’ve known at least a handful of OPD officers in the last couple of years that have left for, quote unquote, ‘greener pastures’ because of that turmoil. Those are good people and that’s working against the OPD.

Anyway, let’s move on to a tough question. You made the national spotlight recently when you spoke out in favor of gun control. Definitely on the radar of a lot of very enthusiastic second amendment defenders in a very passionate, (some might say irrational). Was there any personal fallout there for you? I know there’s the blogosphere, a lot of comments being flung around.

KJ: I received, from between 300 and 500 emails.

EE: Can’t read them all. Wouldn’t want to read them all.

KJ: I don’t read them all. For about a three month period I would receive maybe a phone call a day. But it’s died out. Until about a month and a half, two months ago when the Washington Post republished their story from a year ago and then I got another rash of hate mail.

EE: There’s waves here.

KJ: Yeah and then what happens is they republish a year old story, people read it as if it was yesterday’s news and they start to call again.

EE: Yeah. A viral email, who knows? The Internet is merciless, you know?

KJ: In actuality, my positions representing the California Police Chiefs on gun issues was what had brought me to the getting the Malloy Award. I had been instrumental on getting legislation that banned the open carry that was in place at the time. Prior to the law going in effect, you couldn’t carry a loaded weapon but you could carry an unloaded weapon, exposed, in a holster, on your belt.

EE: How do we know it’s not loaded?

KJ: Well the problems of it was that the reason that we didn’t go after it because we didn’t want the guns out there being carried. We went after it because it created a liability issue for our officers who are going to need to confront the gun. We get calls on them, but the law only allowed us to check that gun to see if it was loaded or not. We weren’t able to check the individual to see if he was a prohibited person, we weren’t able to check the gun to see if it was stolen, or any of the other things.

Yet those are the investigative issues that we do with crime guns. Open carry wasn’t a crime gun. You take your tactics for crime guns into something that otherwise is legal and ends up in lawsuits. With the number of lawsuits that we were experiencing around the state, Cal Chiefs said “We need to get legislation to do something about open carry” and I was the face of that and that’s why the Malloy Award came that year.

EE: Okay, so it came with some hard work here. It also came with a little bit of… It’s never made you feel unsafe though, right?

KJ: No. I get calls from my relatives in Washington State and things like that, because if you hear Ken James and guns it’ll come out. No, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable, it doesn’t make me reconsider my position. I don’t believe that more guns are the answer. We have more guns owned in this country than we have population. We have 350 million person country, we have over 350 million guns in this country. Owned. At what number does more guns become the answer? I don’t agree with the idea of more guns being the answer.

EE: They always point to Switzerland. They have so many guns and such a low crime rate, but they’re not looking at the facts that most of these guns are rifles required to serve their Military service and they have a gun as a result of being on call for that duty.

KJ: Yeah. The very adamant second amendment people believe that gun free zones are a haven for crime and the fact that schools are gun free zones, that’s why Newtown happened because the individual knew that he wasn’t going to be, but if there was an arm teacher in those classrooms they would be able to stop the attack before so many kids were killed.

There was an article in the paper today of a shooting in a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania where the individuals stopped by about a doctor that was carrying guns. Believe me if you go on any of the pro-gun blogs …

EE: It’s front page news. It validates everything that they’ve said.

KJ: It could validate what they do. I don’t believe that. I don’t.

EE: Well they’re not looking at the root of the problem and the root of the problem is that most of these mass shootings that have occurred. They’ve been on [pharmaceutical] drugs and…

KJ: Yeah. There was a mental illness factor to it, yeah. The pro-gun advocates use a slippery slope argument to say that anything that the government does is aimed at taking your guns away. And that is the furthest thing from any of the thoughts of the gun, quote ‘gun control’ people. What the Brady Campaign, the legal community against gun violence advocate are reasonable gun regulations. That a gun shouldn’t be something that is unfettered. It has a deadly consequences to it. There needs to be reasonable regulations.

EE: Everybody agrees except for like a very passionate lobby group …

KJ: Except for the very powerful NRA and they’re the ones that say it’s a slippery slope. If you allow to have universal background checks at any time, the next thing you know the government will know where all the guns are. When they come to confiscate them and what’s interesting is again, that’s not what is there. The Supreme Court in the last two major decisions, the Heller decision and the Scott McDonald decision in Chicago says, “You have a right to a gun, but that doesn’t mean that that right is not subject to regulation.”

Reasonable regulations are something that are good. Chicago’s and the Heller decision dealt with, in both of those cities they banned the guns completely. You could not own a gun. Or you could own a gun, but it had to be in pieces as in your time. That’s not what gun regulation people are for, that’s not what the California Police Chiefs or my beliefs are for. But I look at it as, it’s a dangerous thing when I have to confront a gun in my line of duty and I don’t want the tragic consequences of confronting a gun like we had in Santa Rosa where the deputy shot the 13 year old with a simulated assault rifle.

The deputy doesn’t know and we’ve actually, here in Emeryville gone into the schools with a display that shows real guns and toys side by side and you can’t tell the difference.

Our officers have to confront that gun and if somebody doesn’t respond in a likely way, we could have, like I said, a tragic shooting that’s up there.

EE: Yeah. I don’t think a lot of these advocates understand the circumstance. They’ve never been to Emeryville.

KJ: Well they have.

EE: Some of them have?

KJ: Oh yeah.

EE: I mean the ones that have called you or the ones from the blogosphere?

KJ: No. About six or seven years ago, I believe that Jennifer was on council at the time, so it wasn’t that long ago. The city that was taking action to zone the regulations. Zone where gun dealers could be. And the reason why, is we had somebody that was coming in and wanted to go in right around where the Touch of Soul Barbeque on San Pablo Avenue is, and open a gun store there. Well you’re less than a hundred yards from the recreation center. You’re less than 200 yards from Anna Yates and maybe 300 yards from the high school.

EE: Was it like a pawn shop, or was it an actual gun…?

KJ: No, it was a gun dealer that wanted to come in and open a gun shop. Where you could walk in and buy guns. The city feedback was, “Well that’s probably not an appropriate place” and so the city looked at zoning where gun business could be.

EE: So there’s nothing illegal about what he was trying to do? The community, obviously would oppose it.

KJ: Yes. Nothing at all about it. The only thing illegal about it is that there is both federal and a state law that holds a bubble around schools that are gun free. This dealer would actually have been within that gun free bubble. We had to look at it and say, “Okay. Let’s look at the bubbles, let’s look at the things for our different schools and do it.” Well that brought in the advocates against it and so it was an ongoing debate and it got Brian Donahue into the debate…

EE: Uh Huh. I had an interview with him not too long ago and he mentioned that. In fact a couple of these advocates threatened him. That goes with the territory. Hopefully I won’t have a target on my back as a result of this, you know? If you’re listening at home.

KJ: I don’t fear my position has caused me to be in physical threat.

EE: Well good. Yeah about a year ago, apparently there’s a marijuana dispensary task force. Just a little blip on the radar that got shut down. We’ve had a couple of, or at least one raid near the Pelco Building.

KJ: We don’t know what that was, other than it was a grow. Because we can’t trace back who was responsible for it. Nobody’s come forward and said, “That’s my marijuana.”

EE: Okay. Yeah I just heard that there was a task force that got shut down. Not something, apparently, that ever took root, or was needed.

KJ: We’ve never had a task force. A task force is different agencies contributing to go after the problem. We’ve never been a party to a task force. Anything that we’ve done internally in the city has been 100 percent us.

EE: Okay. Again, that was just something I read somewhere. Yeah. You understand my position, you know as a blogger, a pro resident advocate. Transparency is important to me, I’m trying to get as much information as I can to show the public so they can make their best choices.

KJ: That’s why I say, we weren’t a part of a task force. Anything that has dealt with drugs, especially marijuana in Emeryville has been dealt with solely by the Emeryville Police Department.

EE: Okay. I gotcha. This is another [transitional] time for policing in the era of social media. EPD has a Facebook page, I know you recently adopted Nixle. Is there an overall strategy here? I know it can go both ways. It could be beneficial to the community.

KJ: Actually things are kind of on hold right now so that the city develops an overall strategy rather than it be in piecemeal here and there. We started Nixle and we started different things under the expectation from the community that it be there. Yes, it is changing.

EE: Who’s heading those efforts?

KJ: To change it?

EE: To just, I guess draft this, overall [strategy]

KJ: It’s myself and Michael Parenti that’s doing the overall on the social media issue. And that’s just developing an overall policy. What we’ve found is that the main thrust behind those overall policies are what public safety needs to give out and to be in direct connection. There isn’t really a necessity for, say, planning and building and a plan check to put out an alert. Everything we do is directly related to community, so keeping them informed becomes more and more important. It becomes important because there’s a greater expectation for it.

I have been a staunch opponent to online reports because I think that we’re a full service police department, the confidence in the police department is built by when you call a police officer, you see a police officer. The reason on my reports were starting to begin with was to take up the slack of having the cutbacks that were being made in the cities. Because of your staffing cuts you’d have to eliminate response to certain type of calls and to still capture those calls, there was online reporting. We never had that issue in Emeryville.

EE: If you get in a car accident in Oakland, or even, I’ve heard, get your house robbed, the police won’t show up. You’ll have to file a report online.

KJ: Yeah. In Oakland right now, if your house is burglarized, you can do an online report, number one. Number two you’re probably going to look at two days before you get a technician out there to look at it. Here in Emeryville you get two to five minutes. Going back to the online report, there are more and more people today that just have an expectation that they don’t want to have to wait for a cop. It’s a matter of convenience to file the report. We’re evaluating online reporting procedures and such and software that we’re provided.

EE: There’s tools out there for doing this?

KJ: Oh there’s tools out there for doing any. I use that as an illustration of saying, “The expectation of the community we serve changes.” It’s no longer that you have to do an online report because I can’t send you a cop. It’s more “I don’t want to have to wait for a cop. I’ve got better things to do. I want to do an online report.” So the expectations are changing.

EE: Yeah. There’s all these merging forces on the Internet that are kind of coming together. I’ve heard Twitter is effectively in some cities, replacing the police wire. There’s Nixle. Facebook is one way, Nextdoor is another. That’s one that I’ve tried to encourage participation from the EPD. I know the Golden Gate neighborhood apparently has kind of a…

KJ: We’ve looked at it and we feel that Nixle’s is the better thing because Nixle is something we control. Nextdoor is something more analogous to an email group in that you have to join the group and then there are rules for joining the group. Nixle, all you need to do is log on and join for an area and you get everything.

We’ve kind of stayed away from the [Nextdoor] one because of being able to reach more people on it. As they come up, you’re right, they’re changing. My concern with the changing is that when you dial the phone to the Emeryville Police Department there’s going to be somebody there watching it.

There may not be somebody there watching the computer when you send that Nixle thing. I get them all the time, I got one this morning that somebody had their light stolen off of their bicycle over at Target and I had to write back and say, “Well unfortunately we don’t take online reports. Please, next time you’re in Emeryville either come to the police department or call and we’ll send an officer out to take the report.” If I had been on vacation, that would’ve waited for however long I was on vacation, because that only comes to me at this point. The same thing with Facebook. We have one officer…

EE: It requires resources to manage and attend these things.

KJ: And attend them. Do we have an officer sitting in here watching a computer? Or do we have the officer out there moving around watching the community?

EE: Yeah. For certain things, I could see it being beneficial, but I agree. Crime reports, not so much. For engaged residents, like myself, that are just looking to tap into trends and criminal activity, hot spots, you know? There’s benefits for me. That somebody even wants to inform residents as much as possible.

KJ: That’s why we started, three or four years ago, the [CrimeReports.com]. Where you can go on and you can actually put in the filters of what you want to see and where you want to see it for that time period. So that people can follow it.

EE: It’s useful. It’s a step in the right direction for sure. I want to know, “Hey, if the breezeway at the Powell Street Plaza is a hotbed of criminal activity, then I want to inform residents to ‘use your best judgment there. Be on guard. Be vigilant.'”

KJ: The unfortunate, we are changing. When I say “We”, I mean as a city. When the city’s website first went up, changing it, adding to it, or putting something new on it was so bureaucratic that it became a prohibition rather than an aid. That’s changing. So that as we move forward, and it’s at a snail’s pace at this point, the crime stats that you see that are two months old on our website will be more up to date. The Crime Stats are real time, up to date. They have an interface with our records management system.

EE: Okay, good. You’re saying this is kind of phase one, but there’s more to come?

KJ: There’s more to come. We want to make the information that’s on our website timelier.

EE: I look forward to it. How do you think news blogs, like myself and Brian’s blog, The Tattler, or the Secret News, of course … what can we do as engage residents and we have a certain responsibility to disseminate information. What can we do to communicate threats in our community? I know there’s advisories on occasion. Going back to my own history there was one when smartphones became kind of a problem with armed robbery. I think there might have been an advisory made. What can we do?

KJ: Well at this point there’s only a couple. It’s a newer thing. I think that we probably should start to sit down and develop some ways of communicating better. The traditional news outlets have their procedures and what they go through and they do it. We get a call, probably three times a day from The Tribune asking our dispatcher if there’s anything going on. Probably 99.9 percent of the time dispatcher says, “Oh, nothing going on.” Even though we may be right in the middle of a very high intensity, or high profile case.

We just haven’t worked out with our dispatchers to say, when we do it might be to help you and Brian and I think Brian asked us and we already did it. For you is that, if we send something out to the traditional news agencies that you’d be somebody that’d be sent it. We’ll put out press releases on certain crimes. We don’t always just fax them, we don’t have a fax tree to them. If they will provide them to the dispatcher as a press release and then somebody calls in and they say “Well we have this press release” and then go from there.

EE: Yeah, I’m at the point with this blog, that I get quite a few comments, notes, etc., “What’s going on here? What’s going on there?” I kind of rely on them. There’s almost a community of tips. When there’s something that’s important, I’d love a gateway there to disseminating that information.

KJ: And I think that we need to find some way to do it.

EE: Okay. There’s opportunity there, for sure.

KJ: Yeah, there’s opportunity to work something out. Like I said, you don’t have the time and as probably a one man show, you don’t have the staff to have somebody call the police department three times a day in the cities of their reporting circle and say, “What’s going on?”

EE: Yeah. Definitely not. Hopefully one day. So tell us, winding this down, was there one event, one episode in your Emeryville career that you found the most gratifying? One you’re going to reflect on when you’re down the road and say, “You know, that really made it all worth it.” You know? Saving that kitten out of the tree. One thing that kind of resonates with you?

KJ: No, there’s not one. I’ve had a very good career in Emeryville. I’ve been able to experience just about everything that anybody would want to do in law enforcement.

EE: You’ve seen it all.

KJ: I don’t know that I would say that I’ve seen it all, but I’ve been a first responder on murder cases, I’ve been first responder on rape cases, robberies. I’ve been the investigator on all of those type of cases as a detective.

Now with my activity with the California Police Chief’s Association I’ve testified before senate and assembly hearings up in Sacramento. I’ve had a very active, fruitful career and there’s not any one thing that I’ve said, “Oh that made it worth it.” I think it’s a culmination that when somebody just comes up and says, “Thank you”, that makes it worth it. You know that you’ve made a difference.

Satisfaction that you’ve built a respect for what you do.

EE: Okay. National Night Out, kind of the impotence for this interview coming up August 5th, Tuesday from six to eight. I know there’s at least five or six different neighborhoods that are going to be hosting these. They’ve been going on and I’d have to research it, but I’m sure in Emeryville for a while now and that’s a good opportunity.

I met you, in fact, last year, you know? Baseball cap in the Park Avenue Plaza, shaking hands. Learning people’s names, I’m sure. Talk to us about how important that one day is to just establishing trust with the community and just …

KJ: It is. You described it perfectly. It is a day to get out and energize the community. Not only to get to know law are enforcement, or fire, or other city departments that participating. But to get to know each other. It energizes the neighborhood, too. “Hey, I’ve seen you around a lot.” And meet each other. Because realistically that’s probably the best crime deterrent there is.

EE: Trust in your neighbors.

KJ: Yeah. Knowing your neighbors and having your neighbor’s eyes and ears on the things that are occurring in the city.

EE: I got your back, you got mine …

KJ: Exactly. And having that trust. If everybody just goes in their house and closes their blinds and never looks out, never says “Hello” and everything else, you have a dead neighborhood. National Night Out was designed to start to energize to get the communities working and meeting and understanding.

It has gone, in Emeryville from anywhere from an ice cream social at city offices before a council meeting to, as prolific as it was last year and I expect it this year will be just as good, if not better in getting it because what we had done in the past is we just said, “Hey. Here’s what we’re going to do, please come by.” The city has adopted a different strategy and says, “Let’s encourage neighborhoods to get together. Let’s start to identify neighborhood captains that’ll be willing to do the work to organize something.”

That brings it down to the community level where people are out there to meet each other so hopefully it’ll be better. I think the city has two locations. I know one for sure and I think we’re going to have one at Temescal, Doyle-Hollis there’s going to be a location. Watergate’s going to have a place, 1500 Park, I think is going to do one again.

EE: In fact the captain of that one. Got to get motoring on that!

KJ: There’s several other communities because again, Emeryville is unique. A lot of communities are very high density, multiple family buildings. But they don’t know each other. So we try to get them out to encourage that.

EE: It’s hard sometimes.

KJ: It started as National Night Out is the premier crime prevention event, but here in Emeryville, Sabrina came in last year and says, “Why is this just a police event? Let’s make it a city event.”, “Well, okay. Let’s make it a city event. We’ll have everybody out there. Let’s get the community going with it.” And that’s where we’re going with it now.

Emeryville, like I said, we get those people out of their apartments, meeting each other. No better crime prevention than to have an activated community.

EE: Agreed. We’ve just got to encourage participation, you know? If you’re listening to this, get out and join us!

KJ: Get out. The funny thing is, is we have held, throughout my career what I have found is the idea that if you build it they will come. That doesn’t work. If it impacts the community and they have a reason to come, they’ll come.

We’ve over the years have held community meetings for specific items in a crime trend and we’ve had great response. We’ve had others to just “Come out and meet your police. Come out and do this, come out and do that” and their response is very small. Because they’re not energized for having motivation to do it.

EE: Well, personally that’s something I’m trying to fill the gaps in is being a bullhorn for the city and encouraging engagement by making it easier for people to get a digest of what’s going on in the city, you know? I don’t know if you’ve been to the E’ville Eye, but we have a community calendar, it’s free. For anybody to put in their events. We’re connected to all the social networks.

Everybody gets their information from different ways. Whether it be email, Twitter, Facebook. There’s no excuse for not knowing a little bit about what’s going on in the city.

KJ: In actuality I try not to get on any of the blogs and such. But I did get to [E’ville] Eye in the last one because Brian called me up about the article on the crime rate. He says, “What is this?” And I looked at him and I says “Well, what it is, Brian, is there’s an excerpt there that compared the month of June of 2014 to the month of June of 2013” and it really isn’t a trend comparison that you’re going to see. Because if you look for year to date 2014 to year to date 2013 you’ll notice that our crime stats are down nine percent and major crime was down over, but in that month, in comparing one month to the other, there’s a major spike.

EE: Yeah, like a 700 percent spike in that. From me to you, I thought that it was a little sensational sounding. I actually went back and, in full disclosure I changed it to, “Well this month is high, but really overall for the year our crime was down.” You’ve got to say one good thing and one bad thing to get the whole picture.

KJ: Believe me, Rob, I’m not being critical of what you write. That’s your responsibility and that’s what you write. I was just responding to Brian calling up and saying, “What’s going on? I didn’t know that we had this crime rate that’s going up” and blah, blah, blah. So I explained to him.

EE: Panic!

KJ: Yeah, there was a panic. And I said, “Well let me go to the [E’ville] Eye and see [E’ville] Eye and see what was in there.”

EE: Yeah. Well Adrian Robinson explained it partially in the way that that particular crime was being classified. If there are multiple people involved it kind of skewed that number. There’s always a story behind the data, you know?

KJ: Interestingly enough, at the Public Safety Committee where that report is presented, that’s what that report is generated in June. I asked, and this was before your article, I asked the committee, I says, “Is this of any benefit to you?” We’re comparing one month of 2013 to one month of 2014. I says, “For me that doesn’t give me any information.” This is history, this is today and it’s not showing a trend of anywhere. It’s not showing anything. Is it giving you any value? And the committee said “No.” We’re going to pick it up and take the annual months out and do more of a trend of what it was before. So the next one we’ll have the month of June of 2014 compared to the month of July of 2014 to show if there’s any trends starting and then continue…

EE: That might be more useful to see a graph of that.

KJ: Yeah. See a year to date rather than, “Okay, here’s what it was in 2013. Here’s what it was in 2014 during those months with no direction at all to see whether it’s going up or down.” Where we will do that in the future.

EE: Okay. Yeah, I’d love to provide some feedback there on…

KJ: It’s kind of interesting that we talked about it at the Public Safety meeting and then you write about it later in the month.

EE: Hey, if the analytics is any indication, you know, people want to know these things. You know? They want to be vested in their own personal safety. I just want to give them to data.

KJ: To your credit, you just didn’t post that. You gave the whole chart that if somebody sat down and went through the chart they would see, “Okay, we’re just comparing this month and this month but if we look at it overall for the year it’s this. And if we look at the three year average for those crimes on a year to date” I think that’s a valuable thing. That’s what’s in there.

EE: I have a personal responsibility to not be sensational and I mean want people to click, I want people to read. It all ties into the purpose of the website. From me to you, I’m not trying to be sensational, be “objective”, in a sense. Anyway…

KJ: AI understand that and again, if we produce that every month and you printed that every month, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s your job, that’s your responsibility. It is what it is.

EE: I got the idea from Berkeleyside, which is the biggest news source in Berkeley. I spoke with one of the editors over there, her name’s Emilie and she said they’re very popular. Takes a little work to put into, but there are things the community wants to read so that’s where I come in.

KJ: It is what it is, there’s nothing there. The community interprets it the way that they do. But all that to go back to say, I generally don’t look at the E’ville Eye, or Emeryville Eye and I don’t look at The Tattler and I steer away from Brian’s opinion pieces mostly. But I do read them because not for what he has to say in them, but for the comments after.

EE: Okay. He can be pretty entertaining. He has a very passionate following …

KJ: Actually [CW] Nevius from The Chronicle did an article yesterday in which he took an attack on the people that will comment on a news article…

EE: Yeah. Trolls?

KJ: Yeah. That’s what he called them matter of fact. But I think that you can get an interesting feel of the pulse of the public by some of those. And there is…

EE: The wisdom of the …

KJ: After experiencing what I did over the gun stuff, there is a bit of cowardice in the anonymity, but it also gives me an idea of where people are coming from with that. That’s why I like to read comments. I don’t read articles as much as I read the comments.

EE: Yeah. I wish I could get a little more passion from the community in the dialogue. It comes and goes, depending on what the subject matter is. Anyway. We’re going on probably longer than you allotted here, but I really appreciate your time. So, let’s wrap this up, Ken James. An entire career in policing. At some point you’re going to wind down and pursue your full time golf, perhaps the senior circuit. Tell us what you’re looking forward to when you decide to turn in the badge.

KJ: I don’t know. That’s why…

EE: You don’t have a date picked out for us to tease us with?

KJ: No, that’s why I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve become a joke amongst the Alameda county chiefs. They’ll say, “When are you going to go?” And years ago I would say “This time” or “This time.” Ruth Atkin has hit me with, I told her that when we were going through the renovation in this building that I didn’t think that I would be around to see us move back in and things like that.

KJ: A very, very good friend and one that I consider a mentor, a retired chief of San Leandro, said “You have to have something to retire to” and I haven’t found that yet. I love playing golf. It’s three hours in the day, what else are you going to do with the other? You sleep for eight, so there’s 11 hours. You’ve got 13 hours you’ve got to account for. What are you going to do in those 13 hours? I haven’t found anything that is as challenging or as satisfying as doing this.

EE: Okay. No pressure, no urgency. Everybody loves Ken James.

KJ: When I find out then I will call it and we’ll just go from there, but I don’t know what it is.

EE: Okay. It could be a year, it could be a decade or more. You know?

KJ: Well it’s not going to be that [long], I’m too old for that. I don’t want them to come in here and find my skeletal body sitting in the chair because they hadn’t seen me in a year or so. But it’ll be a time when I think, “Okay.” I’ll know what I want to do and I’m ready to do it. But I don’t know what that is at this point! A lot of chiefs will retire and they’re retiring young. I’m literally one of the exceptions. They retire young, they’re retiring at 50 years old. They have a nice retirement package. They could live easily off their retirement package but they end up getting their private investigators license and doing background investigations and IA investigations and those type of things.

EE: When you retire young you can do that. You’re not going to do that.

KJ: Why retire if you have to go find some work. Retire means you want to stop working. They’re not stopping working because they haven’t found anything to do. The chief in Livermore retired about a year ago and now he’s a Deputy Sheriff at the Alameda County.

EE: Wow. Getting Pulled back in.

KJ: Well it’s two retirement systems and he’s double dipping. So he’s got a lucrative retirement system [inaudible 82:35] that he gets every month and he gets a monthly paycheck out of Alameda County every month and in five years they’ll be vested in that and can have two retirements. Number one I’m too old to do that, number two, never had a desire to do that. Being an Emeryville Police Department employee’s been the only full time job I’ve ever had.

EE: That’s all you’ve ever known, in that regard.

KJ: That’s it.

EE: Well, when you find that passion that pulls you [into] retirement I hope you’ll let the E’ville Eye know.

KJ: Certainly.

EE: We can follow that up with another interview. But it’s been a pleasure and I’ve learned a lot about the John Lacoste era. Fascinating, like I said I could write an article just about that. But just our police force in Emeryville that everybody loves and respects. Ken James, thank you.

KJ: You’re welcome.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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