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Vanguard Featured Article

by: Kerry Hillis

 

HILLIS: Today Im interviewing Jeff Ricketts. Jeff, tell us a little bit about yourself; are you from the area?

RICKETTS: Im a second-generation San Jos Police Officer. My father retired from the Department over 35 years ago. He started in 1949 and retired in the mid 1970s.

HILLIS: And when did you start with the Department?

RICKETTS: I started in 1985 and just retired this July.

HILLIS: Right. So what made you decide to follow in your fathers footsteps?

RICKETTS: My original goal was not to be an Officer. I majored in business in college and then worked in the banking field for 10 years. Often I found that most important thing I would do when I came to work was figure out where I was going to go to lunch. (laughter)

RICKETTS: Really, I just got tired of watching other peoples money, so I decided to go from bank management into police work because police work is more rewarding.

HILLIS: Very good. I understand that you also have quite an athletic family. Would you like to tell us a little bit about whats been going on with your kids lately?

RICKETTS: My son, Rick is a senior at the Air Force Academy and is playing football there. My goal this fall is to make it to every game.

HILLIS: What position is your son playing for the Air Force football team?

RICKETTS: Hes a starting defensive end. I just got back yesterday from a three week trip going to the Northwestern State, BYU and University of Oklahoma games.

HILLIS: Sounds like fun. And are there other members of your family that are also active in sports?

RICKETTS: My wife Carol is a cardiac nurse for Kaiser Hospital. In her day, she was a prodigious softball player. When she played at Columbus Park she would routinely hit the ball over the fence and across Taylor Street. I liked to boast that I have a wife who hits the ball further than anyone! Our daughters got their athletic skills from my wife. Our eldest daughter, Samantha was an All-American with the University of Oklahoma softball team in 2005-2008. Shes now a graduate assistant for the Sooners and getting her Masters Degree in Education. Samantha is coaching our youngest daughter, Keilani at Oklahoma. Keilani is a softball pitcher who won 30 games last year and was all-conference. Our middle daughter, Stephanie is a softball pitcher with the University of Hawaii. She also won 30 games, made all conference and is leading her team to the College World Series. I like to boast that no other father in college softball has ever had two daughters that are 30 game winners in the same year!

HILLIS: Wow, thats impressive. It sounds like you did a great job.

Moving to other areas, how long were you with the Department?

RICKETTS: 25 years.

HILLIS: In that time, to which specialized units were you assigned?

RICKETTS: The first specialized assignment I worked was the old Youth Service Detail. This was basically the PDs first anti-gang unit. The YSD has been since disbanded with the two other units taking over its responsibilities. The unit tried to control the gangs and the cruising problems that were occurring near Story and King Road. The next specialized unit I worked was the Narcotics Enforcement Team. This unit specialized in suppressing street gangs that were selling drugs. We used to bust 10 to 15 gang bangers every day for dealing crack. The last specialized unit I worked was the MERGE Unit. When we were SWAT Operations we would work informants with regards to the criminal operations of prison gangs. We did a lot of work in terms of going into the different apartment complexes, working with informants, and cleaning out gangs before they got established.

HILLIS: You must have had some work with the old VCET Unit, which was just eliminated a few weeks ago.

RICKETTS: Yes, VCET was one of the specialized unit came out of the old YSD Unit. YSD Unit was split up so that the Department could focus more attention on gang enforcement. Traffic handled the cruising component and VCET took up responsibility for the gang portion. VCET did a great job in breaking up gangs.

HILLIS: Based on your wealth of experience in this particular area, what do you think about the citys decision to disband VCET?

RICKETTS: The City is making a lot of bad decisions right now. I really feel that whats best for the City is whats best for the department and the POA. The City needs a strong, aggressive police department to keep our gang problem in check. Right now, what were doing is cutting manpower, which naturally makes us less aggressive. I know this makes the gangsters in the neighborhoods happy, but I dont think it makes for a strong city, a strong police department, a strong business climate or a strong POA. The bean counters over at City Hall may have won this round, but the citizens that live in the neighborhoods in which VCET operated are the real losers.

HILLIS: In the time that you were with the PD, do you feel like there were any specific lessons that you learned that you want to share with some of the younger officers?

RICKETTS: The citizens of San Jos need you to be aggressive. You need to hit the criminals hard. In San Jos the police have always ruled the streets and never had to share them with gangsters. There are places in San Francisco and Oakland in which people cant go because the gangs control the streets. We never want San Jos to become like these cities. Thats why we need our younger officers to be able to respond to problems and be proactive. San Jos police officers do not wait to get called for a murder; its always better to get out there and get the gangs off the street to prevent the murder.

HILLIS: In your years with both the PD and the POA, can you recall any other political climate that is similar to what were experiencing today?

RICKETTS: Right now, this is as bad as its been. City Hall is cutting the police department numbers and in doing so, is seriously hurting the moral of the men and women of the San Jose Police Department. Im really afraid its going to create a disaster. I live in San Jos and I am concerned about the future of public safety for my children. Im worried that the long-term effects of what the Mayor and the City Council are doing right now will cripple the city in the future. Will San Jos turn into another Detroit? In that city, crime and gangs go unchecked and businesses move out. The recent and planned actions by the Mayor and the City Council have the potential to turn into a big mess that will backfire.

HILLIS: Going back to your work with the POA, you were the CFO here for how many years?

RICKETTS: 17 years.

HILLIS: And how did you fall into that role? Is it related to your previous career as a bank manager?

RICKETTS: As I mentioned earlier, my degree in college was Business Administration and what I always enjoyed doing was running different banks. I used to be the vice president of a bank and credit union, and I managed seven branches. When Jim Tomaino was elected President he asked me to come in and modernize the POAs accounting system. Basically I tried to follow the general accepted accounting principles. At the time, the POA was using a fund accounting system where they had 39 different checkbooks for 39 different functions of the POA. We modernized the accounting systems and used one account and switched to an accrual accounting system.

HILLIS: Sounds like it was a nightmare.

RICKETTS: It wasnt so bad! We wrapped everything down into one checkbook and we used general ledgers and ERISA principles to run the POA. It was real fun working under Jimhe ran the POA like a football team. He was like the quarterback and we all did our jobs, and it ran real smoothly. He did a good job working with the local politicians and the police administration, Joe McNamara through Bill Lansdowne. The Department and POA really took off and started thriving under Jims leadership.

HILLIS: How do you think things evolved here at the POA during your time? Were you able to get it more towards the direction of running like a business? How happy are you with the state of the POA 17 years later?

RICKETTS: Over the past 17 years, the POA has continued to evolve to meet changing the needs of the membership. Under Jim Tomaino and John Shaver, the POA was run it like a football team. Their management style was like combining Payton Manning and Abraham Lincoln. Jim was the plotting quarterback and John was the stalwart of honesty. When Don DeMers and Pat Boyd came into office, they started to run it like a business. There management style was like combining Donald Trump and Bill Murray. Don was the shrewd businessman and Pat was the comic relief; they were very effective in dealing with the City. Then, Bobby Lopez and Allen Dye took over with a mandate to bring more information to the POA membership. Allen actually ran the day-to-day stuff; he was at the POA from 4 am to 1am. He was very organized, kept files on everything and really made sure details were followed up on. One of the best things he did was to promote Joanne Segovia as the POA s Office Manager. Joanne really thrived in her new position and brought a new professionalism to the POA. If you look at what happened with the building, Allen was the one who actually first started seeing all the deficiencies in the building and began getting them addressed. When George Beattie and Jim Unland took over, they hired an architect who informed them that building roof was just shuntedit wasnt even bolted down. So basically, we had a roof that was ready to fall in and we had some huge costs that needed to be taken care of right away!

HILLIS: I remember hearing there was some mold in the walls also.

RICKETTS: Yeah, there was mold and a lot of illegal wiring. There was a water heater stuck in the ceiling that was totally against code, and all sorts of code violations that need to be address to make the POA Building safe.

Other than dealing with the building, Jim and George also took all communications with the members to a new level. Before them, we would talk individually and wed go to briefings. Now they have all these mass communications going out constantly to the membership and people are starting to get involved. Its a whole new level! Everyone is getting the information and seeing what direction the POA needs to go in!

HILLIS: So now that youre retired, what are you doing to keep yourself busy?

RICKETTS: Im following my kids all around the country.

HILLIS: That can take up a lot of time!

RICKETTS: I just got back into town this morning, and Ill be leaving Wednesday and heading up to Wyoming to see Air Force play Wyoming, and then Ill be going up to Montana to visit Allen Dye and then Im heading to Colorado Springs to watch a couple more games. So I wont even be home for the next three weeks. Then Ill be coming back to go to San Diego, then back to New Mexico, New York, and then Ft. Worth.

HILLIS: You might want to invest in an RV or something!

RICKETTS: No I just like to stop in on retired cops around the country and impose on them!

(laughter)

HILLIS: Well, Jeff, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Any last thoughts you want to share on the POA?

RICKETTS: Right now, the POA is going through very real difficult times! In my opinion, we should look to Matt Elvanders tenure for guidance. Matt always had strong opinions and was never afraid to share them. However, when he left the POA as vice president he took special efforts to unify the membership. Everyone has different opinions on how the POA should be run. Matt would always take a position and aggressively argue it. But once the decision was reached, Matt always backed the decision even if it went against his beliefs. Then the other members of the board would work to make the decision successful. After he left the POA Board of Directors, he was always there to support the decisions the board made, because he realized the board was doing the best it could do with the information that was available.

HILLIS: Well, Jeff, thank you so much for talking with us today. Enjoy all that football this year, get some relaxation and thank you for your time.

RICKETTS: Thank you for efforts, Kerry. Because of the POA staff, our POA Presidents and elected officers are successful. Our staff does the necessary work to make the POA effective and rarely receive the credit they deserve.

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