Lt. Ed Varso, PIO doing a routine traffic stop on Circle Drive in Old Escondido overlooking Eastern Escondido.
This past (October 11th, 2016) I was allowed to go on a ride-along in Southern California with one of the officers of the Escondido PD in San Diego County to describe a day on patrol. The officer we rode with may be a familiar face to some of you; Lt. Ed Varso is the Public Information Officer or PIO of the Escondido PD; Varso has been the departments PIO since January of this year. When Varso is not updating the media on current or ongoing investigations’ he is working alongside the gang and special investigations units.
Our first order of business at police headquarters that afternoon is a briefing for all the officers clocking in for the swing shift. (Reporters note): Due to security concerns some officer’s described in this briefing will be identified only by their rank and the first letter of their last name as not to compromise their safety.) In charge of the briefing is Sgt. M, Sgt.W and Lt. T. Sgt. M starts the meeting by updating officers on the recent shootings in Palm Springs where two police officers were shot and killed over the weekend (October 9th). Following the update Sgt. M gives instructions on how to attend the funeral for the fallen Palm Springs officers. Next on the agenda Sgt. M hands over the meeting to Sgt. W who is sitting on the left hands out assignments and what sections of Escondido they will be patrolling for their shift that day. Sgt. W then asks Lt.T the on-duty station commander if he has anything to say. Lt.T reminds officers “to think about their safety and the safety of their fellow officers,” Lt.T also tells officers’, “to not second guess themselves and to follow their gut instinct in difficult situations,” and “to not hesitate to call for backup if they find themselves in harm’s way.” Lt. T than hands it back to Sgt. M who thanks Lt. T for the reminder and asked one of the female officers in the briefing to explain a recent incident involving a police officer getting beat up in Chicago. The incident the officer referred to as reported by the Chicago Tribune newspaper last week says that one of the Chicago PD’s female police officers was beaten to a pulp by a suspect who was high on PCP(Phencyclidine) that she was assisting follow a traffic accident. The article further explained that the unidentified officer “did not use her gun defend herself,” due “to fear of backlash” and “she didn’t want her family or the department to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.” You can read the full story at:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-citing-beating-of-officer-chicago-s-top-cop-says-police-are-second-guessing-themselves-20161006-story.html
After the officer finished Sgt.M said “that incidents like this are happening in police departments across the country,” the term that is being used by other police departments to describe this says Sgt.M “is the Tulsa effect, this is when a police office is always second guess’s his/herself because they are afraid that they are going to loose their job due to there actions;” Sgt. M went on to remind officers again “to use their best judgement,” and “if in doubt to call for backup.” After that Sgt. M dismissed the briefing and everybody prepared to go out on patrol.
Lt. Varso and I then walk out to the garage outside of headquarters where they keep the patrol cars; we were out on the street by 3:30 p.m. going down Centre City Pkwy. or as it is sometimes known as the 15 business loop; we weren’t on the street for long when a call came over the radio about a suspicious person in front of the Carls Jr. off Quince and West Mission; Lt Varso then responded to the call; I asked him who would be charge of the call; he said “that there was already an officer on scene and that we would be backing her up.” Reporters note: It is common practice in most police departments for there to one officer per squad car but occasionally another officer will back up the responding officer; for example: if an officer pulls a person over for a routine traffic stop another officer will usually back up the responding officer. The only exception to this rule is in the major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York where there are two officers per squad car; according to Lt. Varso.) When we got to the scene I saw what Lt Varso described as a “routine check on a possible gang member,” Varso said, “a concerned citizen called the PD thinking think this suspect acting suspiciously.” The suspect was handcuffed and getting questioned by a female office who we won’t identify; after a few questions and frisking for weapons, they let the suspect go on about his business.
Next, I asked Lt. Varso what kind of officer’s does the Escondido PD recruit into the department; Varso said “we look for the best of the best,” and “that officers must be good writers, good social services workers, and good investigators.” Varso continues “that officers must show a true desire to work in this job.” And that the officers not only care about “”their safety, the safety of their partners, and the safety of the community”. Varso also wants to remind folks about the departments 911 dispatchers saying that these “dispatchers are the unsung heroes.”
I followed by asking Lt Varso how much time is dedicated to mental health issues; he told me “on-thousand three-hundred-thirty-four of calls were due to mental health related matters.” he says “that police officers are often the ones who have to deal with people with mental issues,” Varso says “that they have a specialty trained group of officers called The Psychiatric Emergency Response Team” or PERT for short. The team consists of a licensed mental health clinician and a dedicated Escondido police officer that work together to assess a mentally ill individual. Assessments are completed in a respectful and professional manner, and are intended to provide the most appropriate assistance available. The assessed individual is generally referred to a community-based mental health facility that can provide crisis intervention, outpatient care and case management services. Sometimes involuntary hospitalizations may be necessary. In such a case, the individual in crisis is taken to the nearest treatment facility and held for up to seventy-two hours. Any PERT clinician, law enforcement officer or county designated personnel may place an individual on an involuntary seventy-two hour hold. If hospitalization is deemed necessary, PERT typically transports the individual to Palomar Medical Center. A PERT member stays with the individual until the hospital’s social worker accepts the individual for further assessment by hospital staff. For more information on PERT please go to: http://police.escondido.org/pert.aspx
Varso says however that, “disturbance calls are the most frequent call.” Varso says that they(Escondido PD) “have responded to over three-thousand-six-hundred disturbance calls,” this year alone. He says “disturbance calls cover a whole host of issues; everything from arguments between neighbors, family related matters, arguments at bars, etc.” Varso also said “These are just calls from the public, and does not include the number of traffic stops or other proactive contacts that our officers make on a daily basis.”
It was just approaching 5:30 p.m. when we received a call over the radio that there was another suspicious person in a truck which was parked in the middle of a field in Old Escondido off East 5th Ave and Circle Drive; Lt Varso then responded to the call and we made are way to the scene. When we got there we found the truck parked near the field on the street; Lt. Varso then approached the vehicle and spoke to occupants inside (see photo); while this was going on another patrol car with another officer came to back us up. There were two people in the truck a known gang member and his girlfriend; “the gang member was unlicensed to drive a car, but since he was parked he was not in violation of any laws,” Lt.Varso told me; “the driver was warned to not drive away or he would be issued a citation and his vehicle would be impounded” and “the gang member would have to get someone to give him a ride home,” Varso said.
As we were leaving Old Escondido we received a radio call from Police Headquarters on Centre City Pkwy. about two transits arguing in the parking lot(Police Headquarters). When we got to Headquarters at about 6:35 p.m. there was a middle-aged man and elderly women arguing over there possessions; the two were homeless and had been living in the man’s vehicle together for an unspecified amount of time. Due to some disagreement, the man wanted the women out of his car along with all her possessions that were in the vehicle. There were two other officers already there when we got on scene; Lt. Varso and I were next to the women who was crying on the sidewalk while the two other officers were trying to calm the man down who appeared to be very agitated was a short distance away. After about 35 minutes it was decided by the officers on scene that the women was to go to a senior center somewhere in Escondido and the man was to drop of the women’s possessions at the senior center. When Lt. Varso and I got back in the patrol car, I asked him if it was common for situations like the one we had just seen happen; Varso said, “Yes it is actually quite common for people to bring their problems even small ones to Police Headquarters,” and”to involve the police to help solve the problems that they face.”
We left HQ and went back into Northeast Escondido; about twenty minutes later at 7:26 p.m. as we were approaching the intersection of Mission and Centre City Pkwy. a call came over the radio and an officer advised that she was in a foot pursuit in the West Side of Escondido and that we responded to help. In about 30 seconds we went from Mission and Centre City Pkwy. down the 15 business loop to 9th Ave. where Lt. Varso silenced the sirens and went up and down the streets of the West Side looking for the suspect. When we came to 7th and Quince we saw an officer who we can identify as Officer Robbins who jumped out of her patrol car. Lt. Varso then pulled our patrol car along in front of hers and assisted Officer Robbins; Lt. Varso told to stay back in the patrol car until they had a handle on the situation. About five minutes later Lt.Varso came back to the patrol car and I asked him what happened; he told me “That Officer Robbins stopped the suspect who was riding a bike for a traffic violation at 7th and Quince which then turned into a foot pursuit,” Varso continues, “the pursuit ended when Officer Robbins had an unexpected run-in with some cactus which she got out of relatively unscathed.” While the suspect got away, “Officer Robbins did recover a backpack that contained a meth pip along with other drug-related paraphernalia.” said Varso. After this Lt. Varso dropped me off at HQ which ended our ride-along.
Now it is not often that this reporter will comment on his own articles; but I have to say after spending a few hours with the police department, I have a new found appreciation for our police and what they have to go through day in and day out. What some people don’t release is that the police are human beings too and they put themselves in harm’s way every single day. So when I watch cable news or read stories online of groups such as Black Lives Matter condemning the police after these shootings which in some case’s they (the police) are defending themselves. I want to remind folks of what is now known as the Tulsa effect when an officer or officer’s are constantly second guessing themselves in fear for themselves or their families. I am not saying that people don’t have a right to protest. What I am trying to say is that there is a complex investigative process and that we should let that process be completed before passing judgment. So in closing, I remind people the next time you protest our police; remember that they are not out to protect certain American’s they are out to protect all Americans.