Although most Lodi police officers drive sport utility vehicles when they patrol, Officer Richard Dunfee finds a pickup truck more useful for his duties as the department’s community liaison officer — responding to service calls related to Lodi’s homeless population and doing his best to get them the help they need.
“I’ll pick up a lot of shopping carts, and depending on the condition they’re in I’ll either take them back to the store or have them thrown out,” Dunfee said on Monday. “I can fit about six if they’re all the same kind, but usually about four because they vary in size.”
Dunfee first joined the Lodi Police Department as a patrol officer almost 12 years ago, he said, and since becoming the department’s new community liaison officer in June 2018 he has found new ways to help people.
Whereas he often found himself meeting people at some of the most tragic points in their lives as a patrol officer, Dunfee said that as a community liaison he instead meets people at a time in their lives when they really want help, sometimes finding housing and sometimes finding treatment programs for drug or alcohol.
“It’s fulfilling to know that you’re helping people,” Dunfee said. “Every conversation is a step forward to trying to get them into a better place.”
Almost nine months after stepping into the community liaison role, Dunfee said one of the most important lessons he has learned is to strike a balance between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law.
“There’s a time for enforcement and then there’s a time for compassion,” Dunfee said.
Many of the calls for service Dunfee responds to on any given day involve property or garbage left on someone’s private property such as a business or residence, he said he climbed into his truck before responding to one such call at a residence on the 400 block of Poplar Street.
After speaking with a resident who called to report an ongoing problem of people tossing bags filled with garbage next to her house, Dunfee gave her his business card and told her he would drive by her home the next morning to check for signs of illegal dumping.
He then made his way to the Highway 99 overpass at Victor Road, a place Dunfee visits roughly once a month with mental health professionals and other community volunteers for outreach, where he found a shopping cart filled with — among other things — a snorkel mask and a large sheet of sandpaper.
“It amazes me the things these people collect,” Dunfee said as he loaded the cart into the bed of his truck.
With no pending service calls, Dunfee then made his way to the train tracks behind a business in the area of West Lockeford Street and South California Street, where he cleaned up pieces of a homeless camp including several wooden pallets and a heavily-stained mattress.
“This is what the public doesn’t see a lot of the time, that we do,” Dunfee said as he tried to make everything fit in the bed of his truck. “Like a big game of Tetris.”
After disposing of the trash in his truck’s bed at the appropriate facilities, Dunfee then drove to the 800 block of North Sacramento Street, where he arranged for volunteers from the Lodi Police Partners Program to have two wrecked cars towed from the road where they had likely been dumped.
“Some of the stuff I do has nothing to do with the homeless, like this,” Dunfee said as the Partners arrived.
Some of the other calls Dunfee responded to on Monday included a homeless man yelling at passersby at Legion Park on South Hutchins Street — Dunfee gave the man a business card and offered to help him find transportation to the Social Security office in Stockton before telling him to leave the park — and telling another male transient to take down a shelter he had set up in an old dumpster shed behind the old Long John Silver’s restaurant on East Lodi Avenue.
“He will build the most elaborate camps you’ve ever seen,” Dunfee said as the man packed up his belongings.
The last call of the day took us to West Kettleman Lane near Tienda Drive, where several transients reportedly cut holes into a fence to access an abandoned medical building.
With help from Cpl. Eric Bradley, Dunfee cleared the building and located four transients — three men and one woman along with a dog — while additional officers arrived to assist with searching the transients for drugs or weapons.
Dunfee and Bradley cited the four transients for trespassing and gave them five minutes to collect their belongings, then ordered them to leave so an employee of the property owner could once again seal the building’s door with large screws.
After making sure the transients left the area, Dunfee drove back to the station after another shift of issuing citations, cleaning up homeless camps and offering to help people find resources to get off the streets.
“It all helps the city,” Dunfee said. “That’s the most important thing.”