Mon09012014

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Progressive policing: New chief brings wide-ranging experience to the Los Altos Police Department

While driving around, familiarizing himself with Los Altos" neighborhoods, new Police Chief Tuck Younis occasionally responds to a call for a patrol car.

"The other day we backed up on a call. It was a domestic disturbance," he said. A babysitter had called the police about unruly kids.

Younis thinks he can handle the slower pace of life in Los Altos. A veteran of 29 years" service in the San Jose Police Department, he left a city of 175 square miles for one of 6, a population of almost a 1 million for one of 27,000. And at the police department, he has gone from supervising 1,800 employees to 50.

"My day in San Jose was structured by half-hour appointments. I got easily 100 e-mails a day. I did not have the opportunity to do what I do here," he said.

Although he relishes the prospect of building more personal relationships with his employees and digging into the minutiae of small-town administration, he anticipates that many of the concerns in his job will remain the same.

"We have to be prepared ... the men and women who protect Los Altos are no different from those who protect San Jose or Santa Clara," he said.

He is studying the department"s policies and said that while he may introduce some new programs, "There is nothing that I have identified about the organization that is broken. It"s a good organization — I want it to go great."

Younis, 51, has been meeting with every member of the department as well as with community leaders to compile a list of priorities on which to focus the first few months of his regime. He is already working with the city on issues such as the need for an Emergency Operations Center — the city"s current "center" consists of a bank of cupboards and a pile of equipment in the police station"s briefing room.

City Manager Doug Schmitz said he plans to put Younis to work outside the police department as well, possibly on the city budget team. Because the city"s administrators each fill multiple roles, Younis has already had a chance to look beyond the realm of law enforcement. During the storms earlier this month, Younis worked on coordinating with other city departments to respond to downed power lines and obstructed roadways.

"We have to rely on each other because it"s such a small community," he said.

Younis, formerly San Jose"s assistant chief, started his tenure with an outpouring of support from city management and regional law enforcement personnel. The array of police chiefs who packed the Los Altos History Museum for his oath of office Dec. 17 demonstrated Younis" ability to build and keep allegiances.

"In the selection process, he was clearly the No. 1 candidate who emerged from the initial interview panel," said Schmitz, who cited Younis" "knowledge, the gravitas that he has as a person that he would bring to the position and his winning personality."

San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis has known Younis for 27 years, since Davis" first days in the department.

"He was my field training officer. I basically learned how to be a police officer with Tuck," Davis said. "Even back in 1981, he was just extremely professional and polished. He"s done nothing but enhance that ever since."

Where it started

"When I was 5, I wanted to be a cop. ... I had a vision — it sounds very cliché — I wanted to help people," Younis said. "The overwhelming majority of the people get into the profession for all the right reasons — to help people."

He grew up in Saratoga, where he now lives, and attended Westmont High School (class of "74), West Valley Community College and California State University at Chico. The San Jose Police Department caught Younis" interest after he heard an instructor at West Valley speak glowingly of life as an officer in San Jose. But as a patrol officer fresh from the police academy, Younis received a humbling education on the street.

"I was 22, I was very young, very green. I wasn"t exposed to a whole lot of life experiences," he said. "My very first day on the job I was working over on the East side. ... We went to do a traffic stop on a car. It was a stolen vehicle, and they got out and started running.

"I yelled for them to stop, thinking they would stop," he said, fondly recalling his letdown. "Of course they kept running."

Younis is eager to talk about the benefits of life as a policeman, particularly the personal rewards that come with the badge. He described community volunteering, such as providing security for the Avon and Susan G. Komen walks to raise money for breast cancer research, as one of his favorite parts of the job.

"One of the top experiences of my career was getting to deliver a little baby girl in the front seat of a car," he recalled.

He was working the midnight shift in San Jose and had just gotten in a fight with two suspects, whom he had packed into the patrol car to haul them to jail. A car in front of him flashed its lights, and the driver ran up, asking for help. He delivered the baby there on Camden Avenue as they waited for an ambulance to arrive. After seeing the family on its way, they booked the suspects, who had been waiting in the patrol car, and headed over to the hospital to check up on the newborn.

"These are the types of experiences you get in this field," he said.

Private life Despite his enthusiasm for the profession, Younis acknowledged that it makes special demands on an officer, and on his private life.

"Cop marriages aren"t normal," he said, citing the particular toll that shift work, with its long, irregular hours, can take on a relationship. He"s been married three times, and his first wife, a city councilwoman in Saratoga, attended his swearing-in ceremony in Los Altos along with his current wife, Sandra.

"It really does take a special person to allow that (kind of schedule) to occur, to not pass judgment or take offense. Sandra is an incredibly independent and very strong woman," he said.

"A big part of police work is balance," he said, noting his efforts to maintain friendships outside law enforcement, and to keep his work and personal lives separate.

He sails with friends, goes to the movies (but no cop films) and spends time with his 14-year-old English bulldog, Sadie. She travels to Los Altos" Adobe Animal Hospital for appointments, and Younis wryly commented, "I feel that I have already supported the Los Altos community, because bulldogs have a lot of medical needs."

The San Jose way

Younis" concerns about maintaining a balanced lifestyle reflect a growing understanding among police administrators that the hazards of policing extend beyond the immediate dangers of the street.

"The department identified that people were not enjoying their retirement. We had several people retire and die right away," he said.

Not only did the officer community need to make diet and exercise changes, there is also a mental aspect to policing"s toll.

"When I came on, if you were involved in a traumatic incident, you didn"t talk about it — you just sucked it up," he remembered.

Now San Jose practices debriefing after stressful incidents, when all involved employees, including dispatchers, talk about what happened. And when officers prepare to retire, they attend another class offering support to help them survive the transition.

"I"d like to see that (here in Los Altos)," Younis said. "The mental stresses on the men and women who do this job are extreme."

Officers in the San Jose police force typically rotate through many different departments, and as Younis took on different roles, he also picked up Spanish and a working familiarity with the many cultures that co-exist in the South Bay. He describes himself as a "progressive" police chief, invoking a profession that is proactive rather than reactive, with a focus on officer training and contact with the community.

"What you have to learn is that regardless of race, sex and economics, you treat (citizens) with respect and treat them fairly. Communicate with them. If these things take place, the majority of the time it will be a positive contact," he said.

Qualities desired in a police chief

Younis takes over a department that gained some notoriety in 2007, when an employee filed a complaint accusing former Police Chief Bob Lacey, the department and the city of fostering a sexually hostile and retaliatory atmosphere in the department. Lacey was accused of displaying pornography and making graphic comments at the police station. He announced his retirement, after only two years on the job, the same month the city learned of the complaint.

Younis said he hasn"t read the claim, but, "That"s over, as far as I"m concerned."

One of Younis" former subordinates in San Jose, Sgt. Kathy Lopez, served with him in the intelligence unit. She reminisced about an incident that could have echoed the allegations against Lacey, but in which she felt Younis set a high ethical standard for himself and the unit.

When a colleague forwarded Younis a racy e-mail attachment, he shot out of his office and publicly scolded the sender, she said.

"He"s always politically correct and professional — I liked that about him," Lopez said. "He doesn"t tolerate any sort of harassment or comments that can be seen as negative, yet he"s still a lot of fun. He"s able to joke around and show his true personality."

Los Altos has only one female officer, Susan Anderson, but Younis said that number will rise to three once all the department"s new hires arrive. He swore in two new officers earlier this month and anticipates three more will graduate from the police academy in February, and another later in the spring.

The intelligence unit conducted covert surveillance, offered protection to dignitaries and investigated terrorist cells. Lopez said she was the second woman in the department"s history to be assigned to the unit, and that she felt Younis" support.

"He trusted you if you earned his trust — it didn"t matter what your gender was," she said. "He waited to see if everybody did their job and did it well."

A police chief has to instill confidence in his officers while maintaining discipline, praising them while holding them accountable.

Lopez said that when she was a rookie officer and Younis was a newly minted sergeant, she had criticized his plan of attack as they responded to a firearm disturbance. He dressed her down in private for questioning his authority in front of the other officers.

"He pulled me aside and didn"t do it in front of everybody. He handled it so well. There are so many men who wouldn"t have been tactful at all," she said. "Later on — when we got up in rank and I"m a sergeant and he"s a captain — and an officer did a very similar thing to me, (Tuck) started laughing and said, "I remember when.""

During his 29 years in blue, Younis has learned some other truths on the job, including the fact that, "Parking control people are never going to be popular."

"One thing that I have found is that if you speak from your heart, things will work out for you," he said. "Management-by-walking-around is an old adage I believe in. A big part of who I am is collaboration ... both by personality and by job description."

Officer Robert Lopez, president of the San Jose Police Officer"s Association, sat across the table from Younis during personnel negotiations and credited him with a notable openness to suggestions.

"Tuck and I did battle many times, ... but I never took it personally," he said. "We need to be able to walk in and talk to somebody, ask them to be reasonable and see our side. ... You have a chief who is going to show that in the long run he can work with both sides, both the citizens and the officers. ... The citizens are going to get somebody who is willing to make the extra effort."

Contact Eliza Ridgeway at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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