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Open letter to the citizens of Mammoth Lakes

October 12, 2012

 

When I was a child in San Diego, my parents would always take me shopping. Whether it was to the grocery store or one of the two new shopping malls, I would have to tag along and most of the time, I was bored out of my mind.

When my eye would catch a glimpse of an item of merchandise that interested me, invariably I would reach out to grasp the object. I remember my mom or dad telling me not to touch it; that if I broke it they would have to pay for it.

More often than not, as soon as they looked away, I would reach out and touch the object of my fancy or pick it up, not knowing what the cost would be if I fumbled it.

That didn’t matter; I knew what I was doing.

Then one day, while on vacation in Ohio in 1968, I decided that I could figure out my dad’s new Bell and Howell 8mm movie camera against his explicit warnings. In my arrogance I was going to prove to him that I was big enough to handle it—that is until it slipped out of my hand and hit the driveway.

The camera was broken and my father was the victim of my prideful incompetence. I didn’t pay for that blunder in cash; I paid for it in the woodshed.

Over the past few years, the Mammoth Lakes Police Department has been the object of focus for the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ Town Council. There have been many words written recently regarding the details of what the council has demanded of this agency that I will not revisit them, but the bottom line that the council members feel MLPD officers are paid too much.

Rick Wood said as much in the last council meeting, Oct. 3, and I am sure he is not the only one. I would be willing to bet my over inflated salary that Mr. Wood, Mr. Eastman, and the rest of the town council members don’t think that they make too much money. After all they are elected officials, übermenschen.

It is that same level of arrogance that has tainted this council for the last decade; the arrogance that disregarded the advice of an attorney and got this town into a $42 million lawsuit in the first place.

It is the same arrogance and ignorance that would opine that police officers are overpaid blue-collar plutocrats—hired guns that don’t earn their keep and hide behind the badge while making exorbitant wages off the backs of the taxpayers.

The reality is that according to a 2006 study by the Police Association for College Education, 22.6 percent of police officers in the United States have a four-year degree from an accredited college or university, and the number of officers with college degrees has been growing by 2 percent annually.

In California, I believe that number is significantly higher. The national average of people with college degrees per capita is 27 percent. California police officers are the most highly trained professional law enforcement officers in the world. Retired and active California peace officers are in demand around the globe as trainers for emerging departments.

I, for one, do not have a degree, but my process for becoming a police officer started when I was a teenager. I made choices not to drink and drive, take drugs, or engage in other activities that would eliminate me as an officer candidate before I ever took the civil service exam.

The hiring process took 18 months while I had to pass psychiatric testing, polygraph testing, and a background investigation that was so thorough many applicants didn’t make it. My training started in 1989 with a six-month stress academy with San Diego Police Department and then another four months of field training with a cadre of Field Training Officers (FTO’s).

The real process of becoming a police officer doesn’t kick into full gear until after the academy and the fieldwork begins. Depending on where a new officer works, the foundation of his or her training isn’t finished until after three to five years in the field.

Since graduating from the academy, my career has been a long string of specialized training schools, instructor schools, tactical schools, mob and riot training, active shooter response training, cultural sensitivity training, and perishable skills refresher courses. California POST mandates much of this training and oversees all of it.

Beyond the formalized training I received over the course of my career, just working the streets of San Diego and Mammoth Lakes for the last 24 years has been an incredible education.

I have been involved in three officer-involved shootings, too many car chases to count, countless fights, the Rodney King riots, the 1996 RNC Convention, and presidential debates between Clinton and Dole—all the while trying to stay “normal” while I raise four children and support a beautiful wife.

I was gone way too many nights and days protecting the public when my wife and children needed me at home. I am sorry folks, but I don’t apologize for the pay and benefits I received. My family and I earn every penny of pay and pension and so do the officers I work with and their families.

The Mammoth Lakes Police Department has several hundred-years worth of combined law enforcement experience based out of that mold-infested building the TOML wants to call a police station.

Not only are we professional and educated, we have to conduct ourselves calmly in the face of violence and risk to our own safety on behalf of the public that we are sworn to protect.

We have to work around the clock with frequent shift changes, deal with people and circumstances that the general public is not capable of handling effectively. What training has the town council members received that qualifies them to run a major resort community—that is besides winning a popularity contest?

Being a police officer takes its toll on the body and mind. After 24 years of shift work, I can’t get more than five hours of sleep a day, regardless of how exhausted I am. I have buried one of my academy mates and have attended the funerals of several other SDPD officers who were murdered in the line of duty.

Men and women police officers put their lives on the line for the public—regardless of whether you love us or hate us. When you need us, we are there for you. The public includes government officials like the town council members; people—who with the exception of Mayor Matthew Lehman and the late Skip Harvey—refuse to even go on a ride along to get an idea of what we do.

No, it’s way easier to believe that we are overpaid and unskilled. Well, the council can believe what they want about us, but one other important fact about cops that they have completely over looked is that, as a group, cops are very loyal like dogs. And like dogs, when we keep getting kicked, we will jump the fence and you won’t see us again.

People of Mammoth Lakes, I am afraid that many of you do not realize what a precious asset you have had in this police department. And now, due to the arrogant ham-handedness of the town council and their chronic mishandling of this department, the majority of your officers are done.

Our faith in this town government is gone and individual officers are taking early retirement or are seeking employment elsewhere. We are here because we wanted to be, not because we had to be. And unfortunately, after years of being lied to, publicly berated by our employers, falsely accused of corruption, dragged before a grand jury and subsequently cleared by that grand jury, many officers no longer want to be here.

I have made so many good friends during my tenure here. There are so many dear Mammoth residents who have supported this department and worked with us to make Mammoth Lakes a safe resort destination and a safe place to live and raise families. From the depths of my heart, I thank you people, the CERT team, and too many others to mention.

At this point, I don’t believe anything the council could do will change the exodus that is in the process of happening. I am not saying this for shock value or out of pity for the officers; MLPD officers are as good as any in the state and they will find jobs in cities that support them and the difficult work that they do. My pity is for you citizens who didn’t ask for this to happen, but will have to live with the consequences nonetheless. Your elected officials have broken it and you are going to have to pay for it yet again.

What will the Town of Mammoth Lakes do when there aren’t enough officers to be able to function? I don’t know. That isn’t my problem anymore.

I’m retiring and I am quite done with the mismanagement of this town by people who don’t even know what they don’t know.

And what new officers will want to work here in the future? Word gets around fast, and Mammoth Lakes—like Stockton, San Bernardino, and Costa Mesa—will be a “toxic city”—a town with the stink of bankruptcy, enmity for public safety and financial uncertainty wafting around for years to come.

After the dust settles and you need to call 911, you might want to call one of the council members instead. Maybe they will be able to help you.

As a parting note, I want it known that this letter is my personal opinion and was written by me alone as an exercise of my first amendment rights. I do not speak for the administration or the officers of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.

Regretfully,

Jesse Gorham

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