Lodi's interim police chief, Ray Samuels, has a long and varied career in law enforcement that includes patrolling the streets of Vallejo, working as an officer in Concord and serving as chief in the city of Newark, a position from which he retired.
In Lodi, he will oversee the department only until a permanent chief is selected in the coming months. During his stint thus far, the 57-year-old Samuels has earned praise as a stabilizing influence in the department.
Samuels on Wednesday sat down with News-Sentinel Editor Rich Hanner and reporter Jordan Guinn to talk about a variety of topics, from the economic pressures facing police departments to the use of technology to solve crimes. This is a lightly edited version of the interview.
Q: You retired once, and you don't need this job. So what's the appeal?
A: It's rewarding. I did a similar interim job in Menlo Park and I left that department, I think, a little better, and I left a little better, too. I learned from the experience, and that's in keeping with my goal of being a life-long learner. I was also enriched by making new friends and getting to know new colleagues ... . On another note, I just fell in love with the Lodi community. My wife and I enjoy the community so much, we decided to move here for this period. We've got a motor home and were fortunate enough to stay at the Elk's Lodge property (adjacent to the Woodbridge Country Club) for a while, and also at Flag City.
Q: You've worked in Vallejo, Concord, Newark, Menlo Park. What's unique about Lodi?
A: I was only here a few days when I recognized that, in terms of delivering police services, Lodi is at the top. The department, its officers, have a very strong sense of obligation to the community.
Q: Can you tell us more about what "delivering police services" means?
A: I've worked in cities where police officers did not respond to every call. The calls were differentiated. For instance, an officer might not be sent to a fender-bender. Here, if the citizen feels an officer should respond, in almost every case, an officer responds. So in Lodi, if you think we should come, we come.
Q: What is the toughest part of being here for only a matter of months, as an interim? Is it frustrating to know you can't make changes over time?
A: Well, if you are in this field, and if you are (in the chief's) office, you tend to be the type of person who wants to get things done, make a difference. So I suppose that can be a frustration ... but I believe the challenge is simply holding down the fort in a positive way and getting the organization ready for a change in leadership. I know have a job to do here, and I hope the city manager and the taxpayers feel I am earning my paycheck.
Q: These are financially tough times for public safety. How do public safety administrators face those challenges?
A: I have always had the mentality that we know the money comes from the public, and we must honor that and be very careful and thoughtful about spending. It's not our money to waste. For example, I don't believe in a "spend it or lose it" mentality. If you can do a job for less money, you should do it for less. ... I think, just as the real estate market is going through a reset, we are going through a rest in public safety. The expense of (police and fire) has grown substantially, and again, we are in the process of a reset, which I think is necessary but which needs to be done as thoughtfully and deliberately as possible.
When I was leading the traffic unit in Concord, it always had a surplus. My superiors would take the extra money and use it for their departments, which upset my guys in traffic, but I felt I was doing the right thing. I never lost sight of the importance of spending money correctly.
While I believe in frugality, I don't just believe in making cuts for the sake of making cuts. I believe in using a scalpel instead of a butcher's knife. When we have positions that become vacated, we will look to see if we need to refill the position or reshuffle some duties. We won't just refill the seat because it's always been there.
Q: Many officers now retire at 50, but that's when many administrators have matured or ripened to the point of being considered for police chief. Is it tougher these days to recruit a chief who will be in place for four, five or six years?
A: I think you can find a chief who will stay for five years. It's true, the retirement system almost sort of kicks you out at a certain point — it just doesn't make financial sense to keep working. But there are many competitive and capable, ambitious people in law enforcement, people who'd like to be a chief, so I do think it is still quite possible — and not unreasonable — to have someone come in with a five-year commitment, that is, at least an understanding, or a handshake, not necessarily in writing. Beyond that period, if might be tougher.
Q: How do you see the future of law enforcement, especially as it is informed by technology?
A: Technology is critical. If you asked me about DNA in the 1970s I couldn't tell you the first thing about it; now it's integral in so many investigations. But I believe instincts are also critical. You need police officers to ask questions, to be suspicious. That said, technology will continue to grow and grow, and well beyond the crime lab. Today many crimes, for instance, are solved with the use of surveillance. ... Every major crime has an electronic component to it. The younger officers, some of them, are absolute whizzes and can extract information from computers, cell phones, PDAs. And some of them, they want to rely on technology to solve crimes. So it has to be a balance, a happy medium.