Lt. Jeff James was second in command at the Marin CHP office before coming to Tracy in November, and one thing he hopes to accomplish during his time here is to increase integration between his officers and the community.
“The community has just as much to offer us as we have to offer them,” he said during an interview inside his Tracy office earlier this week. “I love it (here); very fortunate. Different interaction with the (Marin) community. Everybody is so close (here), close community.”
The 38-year-old said law enforcement is in his blood. Both his parents worked for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, and a brother works for the Rancho Cordova police department. Even his uncle was in the public safety field, as the recently retired fire chief of the city of Lincoln.
“Public service has always been on my radar,” James said. “This is always (what I wanted to do).”
James served three years in the U.S. Air Force, but due to military downsizing, he said, he was allowed to leave early to attend the CHP academy in 1995. Although he considered going into the fire service in Sacramento, he said the highway patrol came knocking on his door first and, turned out to be a good fit.
After he left the academy, James said, his first job was working out of the Oakland CHP office, followed by Napa, CHP headquarters, North Sacramento, the academy and a return to headquarters for recruitment efforts. He took the lieutenant’s position in Marin before transferring to Tracy.
Now, as the one in charge, James said, it’s different to be setting the tone for how the office interacts with the community.
“I always said, ‘If I were in charge, this is what I would do,’ and now I can see if my visions and ideas really work,” he said. “My philosophy is to leave it better than before (I came).”
He said Tracy came highly recommended by a former local commander, who told him that though the city has a population of 80,000, it has a hometown feeling of a community with 20,000 people.
To start, James said he wanted to focus on more community interaction. He said his goal was not to make sweeping changes, but to see what is in place and expand it to meet local needs.
“Officers are part of the community, and I want the community to feel it too,” he said. “For us, it’s the overriding theme of partnership.”
James described the process as the three E’s: enforcement, education and engineering. He said it was easy enough to enforce speed limits and improve road conditions, such as by widening Interstate 205. The hard part, he said, is education. He hopes to make people aware of the resources the CHP already has for the community, such as a program that teaches teenagers about the dangers of driving distractions, such as texting.
Another project on James’ radar is the construction of a new CHP office to replace the Grant Line Road office built in March 1975. Building crews are slated to break ground on Pescadero Avenue, east of MacArthur Drive in the next few months. The funds have long been available, he said, as the project has been in the making for more than nine years.
“It’s well thought out and well planned,” James said, noting that the office at the corner of Grant Line Road and Buthmann Avenue no longer meets the local CHP’s growth needs.
Upon completion, James said, the new office will be at the leading edge of design and will set the standard for future CHP offices in the state. According to the site plans, the facility will be self-contained with security gates around the internal buildings, which will have rooms for interrogation, briefings and meetings.
The new space will enable the Tracy-area CHP to grow, get into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and embrace environmentally sound principles, creating something that James suggested could be the pride of all Tracy residents.
The facility will also allow officers to expand into conducting commercial vehicle fix-it ticket inspections, which are impossible at the smaller Grant Line office. Big-rig drivers now have to travel to Stockton on Wednesdays to get mechanical tickets corrected.
James said he believed trucking would eventually define the Tracy-area CHP office.
The lieutenant also said he hoped to see his workforce of 29 officers, four sergeants, four civilians and a commander grow to include six more officers.
Recently, the city planning commission gave approval to plans for the new office’s radar tower, which is now slated to go before the City Council. If all goes according to plan, the Pescadero office will be ready by March 2013.