How do you sum up a 30-year law enforcement career when you've literally done everything but be chief or a motorcycle cop?
If you're Lodi Police Lt. Chet Somera, you start by looking back on the decades and saying that it's been a good career. And then the stories begin.
"When I first came here, all of this was vineyards," Somera said as he drove down Lower Sacramento Road on Thursday, his next-to-last day wearing a uniform.
Much has changed for both Lodi and Somera, who retired Friday.
A mere two years into his job in Lodi, Somera found himself investigating a homicide on Cherokee Lane. Somewhere along the way, he moved on to juvenile cases and drug cases and then was promoted to supervise and train others.
He can be all business, but there are times when he'll tip his head back and enjoy a hearty laugh, even if it's at his own expense. And if the joke is on him, he'll soon be dishing it back.
Through the years, Somera taught self-defense and firearms courses, was part of the department's original SWAT team and has been involved in the leadership of a statewide police officer group. He has teamed up with fire officials to work on emergency preparedness, he has grown active in community service groups and he's also raised six children.
Somera says he liked the variety of police work but when he starts telling stories, he tends to gravitate toward his days working in narcotics, sometimes going undercover and buying drugs in order to find the dealers.
"I looked pretty good for a buyer. I had longer hair - I had hair," he said, poking fun at the one sign of his 52 years.
There's the story of Somera's first-ever buy when working on a countywide drug task force. He was admittedly nervous, having never done such a thing in his life.
Somera and an informant went to a house in Stockton, where the dealer let them in and then closed the door. Somera's nervousness increased when the dealer locked the door behind them.
Childhood: Born and raised in Stockton.
Career: Started as a Stockton Police cadet, then became a San Joaquin County Sheriff's reserve officer at age 21 while going through a police academy. Hired the next year, in 1977, as a Lodi Police officer.
Family: Wife of 16 years, Tami, a school vice principal. Six children: Trina, Chris, Heather, Jeremy, Celeste and Nick; Chris is in Iraq with the California National Guard, and Jeremy is in Germany with the U.S. Army. One granddaughter and another grandchild on the way.
- News-Sentinel staff
Things were going smoothly until another man emerged from a back room.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I know this guy!' I'd arrested him the week before," Somera recalled.
He thought the gig might be up, since they'd been quite close to one another when Somera had searched the man, but Somera's gut reaction was to simply greet the man as a friend.
The man recognized Somera but had no idea why he was familiar, so he just thought Somera was an OK guy. He even helped Somera connect to other drug dealers and only realized the connection when Somera was called to testify in court.
When asked how he knew the man, Somera said he'd arrested him one week earlier. The man's mouth fell open.
Then there was the time he and a Lodi sergeant were wearing plainclothes in Stockton. They stopped three men in a car and found a tiny bit of dope, so the sergeant began searching the car.
Somera didn't have a portable radio so he hung his car radio out the window in case he needed it while watching the three suspects who were seated on a curb.
Then another man walked up and suddenly offered to sell Somera drugs. The three suspects on the curb began laughing but the man didn't catch on - or notice the police radio hanging out the window. The man was arrested on a felony.
The hardest part of police work was probably investigating juvenile matters, Somera said. He still remembers the case where a young girl was being molested by a family member; she had thought it happened to every little girl and was just part of home life.
And there was a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome case involving a 6-month-old boy. Somera had a son the same age at home, and it was heart-wrenching to see the autopsy.
Notifying family members about the death of a loved one was also a task he dreaded, because there was very little he could do to console people.
"Sometimes this job is a very rewarding one because you're protecting the public from people who want to take advantage of them, and then there are ones like that, where you're holding the public's hand and they're crying," he said.
But he never regretted the job, which he'd dreamed of since childhood. Somera was in the fifth grade in Stockton when the California Highway Patrol came to his school to do a demonstration. He knew then that he wanted to become a police officer.
His father had immigrated from the Philippines at age 15, and he and his wife spent their lives as farmers, growing such produce as lettuce and tomatoes. Somera has never forgotten his father's instructions: "Unless you want to do this for the rest of your life, you need to go to school."
That's what Somera tells young people now, when he teaches ROP classes part-time. He enjoys it and has no plans to stop even though he's retiring from police work.
Somera is also looking at various second careers, though he has a few requirements: no uniform, no night shifts and no weekends. Police work is enough stress on families, he said, due to the hours and the fact that cops see the bad parts of life.
He countered that with numerous community activities, such as the Kiwanis and coaching youth sports, and he plans to continue both.
When it comes down to it, Somera has plenty of fond memories of his 30 years as a Lodi police officer.
"I really enjoy the challenge of bringing a perpetrator to justice," he said.