by James Garcia Jr.
When one thinks of the kind of Chief of Police their town should have, characteristics such as competence, trust, dedication and honor come to mind. In Kingsburg, some may be surprised to realize that we are represented by those traits and more.
“I knew from grade school that I wanted to go into law enforcement,” said Jeff Dunn, Kingsburg Chief of Police. “It always struck me as a career where you get to meet people [and] you get to help people–which is an important thing; and, for me, it is always different. I like doing different things.”
On the day that I interviewed the Chief, I happened to drive by an incident at a local business. There were police cars everywhere and I felt assured that the interview was not going to take place. Instead, I was asked to wait, and ultimately, the chief returned to the station to meet me. He assured me that what had happened was winding down, and that he was simply assisting the officers. Days later, I found the Chief directing traffic near my home at the site of a minor traffic accident.
“That was one of the things when I got hired that I made clear to (retiring) Chief Taylor, as well as City Manager Pauley,” said Dunn. “If you want a police chief that is going to sit behind a desk for forty hours a week and do nothing else, I’m not the right guy you want. I want to be involved in the community. That’s very important. I still want to be able to go out on patrol. I still like going out on those calls, working with the officers, helping them with their job. It’s been that way for my entire career. That’s what drew me into it and that’s what keeps me in it.”
Chief Dunn grew up in Visalia and began his career as a member of the Tulare County Sheriff Explorer program in 1981. He attended the College of the Sequoias and Fresno City and joined the Kingsburg Police Department as a Reserve officer in 1986. His career seemed to take off after that. He graduated from the Police Academy in 1988, completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology in 1989 and was promoted to Sergeant. In 2001, he was promoted to Lieutenant until 2005 when he was sworn in as Chief.
As it happens with small towns, people’s stories often run together. My father is retired from the Kingsburg Police Department.
“It’s actually kind of interesting,” said Dunn. “I wasn’t really planning on getting a job in Law Enforcement until after graduating college. I didn’t know much about Reserve Programs, but it just so happened that I had seen an article in the newspaper that Kingsburg was hiring reserve officers. The only time that I had been in Kingsburg was once in high school to play basketball. I went to two or three places before somebody finally directed me to City Hall, which directed me to the Police Department.” He got an application and dropped it off late that night. Thirty days later he was hired. At that time, the reserve coordinator was Sergeant Jim Garcia, who ended up being Dunn’s first training officer.
“When it comes to public safety, Chief Dunn is a stable and calming rock,” said Mayor Bruce Blayney. “When I was a volunteer fireman, it was always good to have him on scene, taking an active role in providing coordination with his personnel, so that the fire guys could get the job done. As mayor, I see all the daily administrative work that Jeff does to keep everything running as smoothly as it does.”
Typically, police departments have a famous twofold purpose which is: “To Protect & To Serve”. One might argue that the first part of that purpose cannot possibly be done with the other.
“We could be doing the best job possible, but if the community thinks we’re doing the worst job, that’s how they’re going to feel, that’s how they are going act and that’s how they are going to talk about us to others, both in the community and outside the community,” said Dunn.
“We want the community to have confidence in us that we are here to protect them, we are here to serve them and we’re going to help. If their perception is very negative of us, we’re not going to have that. We won’t get the cooperation that we need and we won’t get people reporting things and stuff like that, and it will be the proverbial snowball that just keeps getting bigger as it goes.”
The Chief likes to be both visible and available to the community no matter where he might be. Even within his office he likes being very approachable. “I like it when people comment that they went in to see the Chief and they were shocked when the dispatcher says, ‘hold on. He’ll be right out’. Quite often, people can come right in. They may have to wait a few minutes if I’m finishing something up, and then I’ll try and talk with them right then and there. I don’t like putting people off or scheduling appointments.”
According to Dunn, he also likes attending as many community events as possible and tries to maintain a regular attendance and communication with groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the chamber mixers, Rotary and Lions Clubs, and has a close working relationship with all the schools. “Being involved and being accessible sometimes cuts into family time when I’m out in the community, but that’s okay. To me, it’s worth that trade.”
“Chief Dunn is a tremendous supporter of the Chamber and his department supports us in every way they can,” said Jess Chambers, Executive Director of the Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce. “He’s easy to work with and we consider him a good friend!”
The official letterhead of the Police Department reads: The Kingsburg Police Department is dedicated to serving mankind and safeguarding lives and property in an honest and courteous manner. To do that, the department adheres to three simple, but important values of honesty, courtesy and the use of only necessary force.
“[That is a] conversation that I have with every new officer,” shared Dunn. “There’s no excuse for honesty. My officers are going to make mistakes. They’re human. But I tell them up front, if you make a mistake, be honest about it. If we have to apologize for something, then so be it, but we’re not going to lie about it. They know [that] if they lie, we’re going to fire them. If we’re not honest with the community, that [positive] perception [of the department] is going to go downhill real fast; and rightfully so.”
His officers also know they are to be as courteous as possible, even if it means repeating things like, “Sir, please stop”, or “Please put this down” as much as ten times before they have to go to a level of force. “Sometimes under the law, if we tell you to stop, we tell you to get down, we tell you to drop something and you don’t, we can immediately have the right to use force,” continued Dunn. “I don’t want my officers to use force just because they can. I want my officers to be courteous and use force when they have to.”
In this uncertain day of budget cuts and layoffs, it can be very difficult to maintain the same level of efficiency and results with any business, but what if that business is protecting and serving a community? Dunn stated that the budget impact is very serious for everyone, whether you are a small agency or a large agency. “A lot of people don’t understand that a police department does come out of the general fund. We are admittedly the largest single expense within any city’s general fund, because we are the entity that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When a city takes a hit in the general fund, it can only absorb so much of that out of the non-police department side of the budget, until it has to have a negative impact on law enforcement, and I understand that. It’s public knowledge that we did just face a lay-off, and we’re handling that with a restructure.”
Dunn is confident that they’ll be able to get through these cuts—that they will survive the cuts they’ve seen and those they expect and still be able to continue to provide the same level of service to the city of Kingsburg that they have. “Is it the ideal situation? Definitely, not. But we’ve seen this coming for awhile. We’ve run the table-top exercises, planned out the logistics of it and we’re confident that we can keep these services going.”
If you do not run into him in town, you can contact him at the Kingsburg Police Department at 1300 California Street, Kingsburg, California. The phone number is (559) 897-2931.