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Vanguard Featured Article

by: Kerry Hillis

 

VANGUARD: So, Dave, tell us a little about yourself. I understand we interviewed you in the past, back when you retired in July of 2008.

NEWMAN: Im now 63 years old. I did 27 years with SJPD; another nine with Palo Alto PD prior to that, and before that I spent 22 months in the Navy on riverboats in Vietnam in 68-69.

VANGUARD: So how have you been enjoying your retirement? What have you been up to?

NEWMAN: Besides a 55 frame-off restoration on a pick-up truck, Ive got a 49 Harley that Im doing a frame-off; Ive got a 65 Harley that I ride and a 56 thats a rat job in the making, and then Im working a couple hours a week with Pat Dwyer for the Department of Mental Health.

VANGUARD: Sounds like youre keeping yourself busy.

NEWMAN: Oh yeah.

VANGUARD: So I understand that you worked for the recently eliminated VCET Unit.

NEWMAN: Thats correct.

VANGUARD: When did you work in that unit?

NEWMAN: I worked there in 03 and 04, and I was the sergeant.

VANGUARD: Tell us about the work you did there.

NEWMAN: Well, it wasnt the work that I did. All I had to do was lead from the front, and I was fortunate that when I came in, I took over a team from Bobby St Amour and our job was to track down the bad boys and put them in jail. It was all gang-related type stuff, and these kids did it 24/7.

VANGUARD: So tell us why VCET was formed.

NEWMAN: My personal bias is that it was formed because of a gang problem, and prior to its formation, the department had a lack of recognition that a gang problem even existed. Once it was there, then it just got rolling, and if you look at Daves article [in this months Vanguard], hes right on in terms of how it was formed.

VANGUARD: Were there any memorable cases from your time with VCET?

NEWMAN: Yeah. One of the earliest that I can remember is there was a shooting at Olinder Parkand it was an 18-year-old gangster that shot-gunned a Mexican national kid because the gangster thought the kid was a Sureo, but he wasnt. MERGE ended up rolling up three parties behind it and then there was some screw up somewhere; the DAs office, PD. Somehow, all three parties got released without being charged. It was a technicality. I can distinctly remember taking all three teams and we met and I was working a day shift team, and we probably worked from 10am to 3:30am the next morning, straight, and got all three back in custody. But that was the work that these kids did on a daily basis. They were that good, that dedicated.

VANGUARD: Well you saw from the ground what the gang activity was like here in San Jos. Do you think the situation over the life of VCET here got better, worse, or stayed the same?

NEWMAN: Its hard to say. I guess I got into police work because I thought I could save the world. And then you find out its just one case at a time, and I cant say that with what those kids did, working with the Homicide Unit and the Violent Crime Unit shut down Meadowfair, but it definitely put a hold on some of the gang problems at least for a short period of time. There are other gang problems that have emerged Palmas was a big one when I was left while working MERGE, and there is still gangs like Horseshoe, and West Side Mob, plus a lot of Sureo gangs, and I think you can control it and you can keep it from rearing its ugly head, but its not going to go away. Its part of San Jos; its part of being a big city.

VANGUARD: Well given that we still have this problem here, what do you think about the recent elimination of VCET?

NEWMAN: I was sorely disappointed, if only for the fact that I had some of my best time in VCET, and I was just a supervisor; I wasnt the grunt doing all the work. I guess I look at it from two sides: we are losing troops, and were not hiring. You also look at it from the point that you have a very able captain in the form of Jeff Smith whos been dealt a crap sandwich.

VANGUARD: Okay.

NEWMAN: and its like, all right, you have x amount of resources, you have x amount of personnel, how do you make it work. And if I had my druthers, I would have probably made all Metro into VCET . Jeff has to keep a balanced approach because there is a lot more to BFO-Special Operations other than gang activity. I firmly believe that if theres a gang problem that rears its ugly head, Jeff will make the commitment to get the job done and solve the problem, and hes got supervisors and personnel that will follow him because he is a good leader.

VANGUARD: How do you think the enforcement of gang problems in San Jos is going to be impacted by the lack of VCET?

NEWMAN: Not being directly involved anymore, I guess what I worry about is the day-to-day stuff. A lot of what VCET handled was that daily involvement with gang members; the constant field interrogations, the probation searches, the parole searches, the contacts with juvenile and adult probation and state parole, and a lot of the kids that were in there had those contacts. They could just call GPD and say, Ive got this guy, what can you do for me? When you now have other job responsibilities in addition to the gang problems, youre going to lose something. You cant keep going at the same pace because youve only got x amount of hours to work in the day. With the department and the overtime issues, that puts even more restraints on it. When I was in there, we didnt have any restrictions on overtime. I had a saying: Today we start early and work late; all other days, we start early and work later. And thats how it was. It was expected. The kids that came into that unityou want life in the fast lane? You want the E-ticket ride? You want to be an action junkie? VCET was it. Theyd go in there and get the job done, relatively complaint free, and roll onto the next case. And so much of what they did never made the newspapers, because it came out well. The cops werent labeled the bad guys by the press because there was nothing to label them with. Anyone could stand back and say, "Look at those guys, look at what they did".

VANGUARD: So you think the problem now is that whereas before we had officers dedicated just to going out and dealing with gang crime, now they have their attention split. So theyre not going to be able to have the same type of immediate response, knowledge of whats going on

NEWMAN: I dont know about immediate response. I dont know how the units are deployed in Metro. But I think youre going to lose some of the fine edge that you had. There were people in there like John Hutchings whos now a sergeant; people like Reid Biersdorf, Dave Anaya, and on any given day, these guys could pull up the information because they knew it and they were doing it all the time. There was one case where Hutchings was testifying on a case in court, and John provided a bunch of testimony from an investigation a year prior that just put the nail in the coffin. And the DA comes up and basically says, Wow, this guys really got his stuff together. And its that kind of intensity because youre doing it on a daily basis, and these kids would hear something in patrol or theyd go to Homicide or the Violent Crime Unit, and they were able to make the connections from looking at a photo or from some ink on some guys arm or just knowing, Hmm, well I saw him here today, I saw him here yesterday, and in between Point A and Point B, something happened. And they talk to people on both ends of the spectrum and connect the dots, and figure out that the bad guy stopped here and the shooting was right next door to where he was, and he jumped in this known gang member's house to hide from the cops. And thats the kind of connectivity that I think you lose as a result; its just a question of how much.

VANGUARD: What were some of the lessons that you learned in your time with the PD that you think might help some of the younger officers?

NEWMAN: That were all interdependent. It wasnt just about VCET or MERGE; it was about people working together. To me, it was never about the credit. It was about the job. I dont care who gets the credit; lets just get the bad boy off the street, and well have beers and whiskey afterward if we so choose. My guys relied a lot on automated information systems; information from R&D, information from the girls that work the backstreets, filing the FIs, filing their reports. I think a lot of that credit gets lost because its just the kids running and gunning out front that are the most profiled and get all the credit, but there are a lot of unheralded people in the background that make it all work together. Same thing with dispatcherstheyre the primary call takers, and theyre the ones that are going to give us the information so that when we get to the scene, we know what were up against. I think sometimes theyre the unsung heroeswe cant do our jobs without them. Its not just about us; its a whole network, a whole community of people that has to operate together.

VANGUARD: You were with the department for a long time; youve seen multiple administrations and many different city council members come and go. What are your thoughts about how the political climate is affecting the PDs ability to do its job?

NEWMAN: When I got on the job in 71, 72, it was a whole different way of doing business. My sergeants, my command officers were WWII veterans, and what they told me is that it was a game of survival. You have to evolve. If you dont evolve, you end up like T-Rex in the La Brea Tar Pits. Prehistoric. I always told my kids that I was a dinosaur. I was. But I stayed out of the tar pits because I could adapt to my environment and change. And there are things that I could get away with that they would never get away with, and my teams and I would joke about that. 20 years from now theyll be looking at the end of their careers, and theyll look back and say, Back in the day, I got to do this. Kid, you cant do this now. And police today have to be smarter and better than I ever was. This city and its citizens expect more and ask more, and the cops have to be prepared to give more. You have to be able to adjust to that environment or you become the dinosaur.

VANGUARD: Any other thoughts youd like to share about your time with VCET and the force?

NEWMAN: You know, I miss the people and miss the job, but retirement is absolutely awesome.

(laughter)

But thinking back, VCET was a family. We all worked together on a daily basis probably spent more time with each other than they did with their wives and girlfriends. And as in any family that spends any amount of time around each other, theyll argue and disagree and yell at each other, but there was an understanding that it wasnt personal. Thats just the way it was that day. What you had were just a lot of ordinary Joes operating under extraordinary circumstances. And its not trying to put them on a pedestal or saying that they were heroes, but they did a lot of heroic things. They were willing to step up to the plate and go the extra inningwhatever it took to get the job done. It took a lot, and they couldnt have done it without the support of their wives, their girlfriends, because there were many times when they were on the phone saying, Honey, Im going to be home late. Thats just the way we rolled.

VANGUARD: Well, Dave, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, and Im sure our readers will appreciate hearing your thoughts.

NEWMAN: You bet. Thank you.

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