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DUTY TO SERVE

Protecting lives while protecting our rights

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DUTY TO SERVE

Nick Obligacion, left, was honored upon his retirement as Manteca’s police chief during an open house Thursday at the Manteca Transit Center. With him is his wife Sallie.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED February 28, 2017 12:56 a.m.

Police chiefs — just like rank and file law enforcement officers — strive to serve and protect.
It is simple as that. And it is reflected in the Manteca Police Department’s motto: “Duty to serve.”
The best compliment you can confer when they retire is that they did their job while doing the high wire balancing act of protecting lives and protecting rights.
Nick Obligacion has retired after serving five years as Manteca Police Chief. He was Manteca’s fifth police chief since 1985. The list included Willie Weatherford, Richard Gregson, Charlie Halford, Dave Bricker, and Obligacion.
It’s a job that has plenty of low points and its share of rewarding moments.
It’s a common observation that everyone loves to see a firefighter but most of the time when you come into contact with a peace officer it isn’t the highlight of your day whether you’re getting a ticket, are a victim of a crime,  or are among those whose behavior jeopardizes public safety and civilized order.
At the same time it’s been said 90 percent of the encounters a police officer has on a typical work shift aren’t exactly with folks you’d call uplifting and pleasant.
That said each of the five police chiefs have managed to leave their marks on the Manteca Police Department.

Weatherford
had to buy
his own gun
Weatherford — who served 11 years before retiring and then went on to get elected to the City Council where he served 18 years including a record 12 years as mayor — founded the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police volunteer unit. The 70-member plus SHARP unit has more than a quarter of a century under its belt working alongside law enforcement to perform tasks that free up paid personnel to concentrate on keeping Manteca safe as well as improving the quality of life through such endeavors as graffiti abatement and shopping cart retrieval.
Weatherford also hired Obligacion in 1991.
If Weatherford’s folksy quips from time-to-time as mayor didn’t leave the impression there was a bit of Sheriff Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show in him, the following two observations will clear any doubt.
Obligacion remembers showing up in Manteca for his interview with Weatherford.  The first question from Weatherford was whether Obligacion had brought his family with him and where they were at. When he learned they were outside waiting in his car,   Weatherford said that was unacceptable. Obligacion was told to go get them and bring them into the department. Obligacion’s daughter Arial who was less than a month old sat on his lap during the entire interview.
Bricker’s first ride-along as an East Union High Police Explorer was with a new officer by the name of Willie Weatherford. He remembers that day not for what happened during the patrol shift but what happened when Weatherford took his dinner break. Weatherford, took Bricker home with him where his wife Sherilyn had prepared dinner for her husband and their children as well as Bricker.
The gesture made him realize that police officers were more than just guys in uniforms enforcing the law. They were also family men.
As a side note, back in 1966 when Weatherford was hired new officers were making $3.25 an hour for a monthly salary of $447. The only way he could make ends meet was with $410 he got from the GI Bill to attend college while working. Keep in mind back then officers had to buy their own gun as well as flashlight, handcuffs, belt and all but one uniform.

Halford saved
two people from
burning hotel
Following Weatherford was East Union High graduate Charlie Halford.
He first worked as a firefighter with what is today the Lathrop Manteca Fire District. Ironically, it wasn’t until his early days as a Manteca Police officer that he saved people from a burning building.
He was on duty one night when the two-story hotel that was once on the northwest corner of Sycamore and Yosemite avenues in downtown Manteca became engulfed in what would turn out to be a fatal fire. Halford, using a ladder, was able to save two people including a child that were trapped by flames on the second floor.
Halford was sometimes called “Inspector Gadget” by the rank and file for harnessing technology to help make police officers more efficient and effective. Granted modernization has to catch up with every institution sooner or later but there is little doubt Halford was the right man at the right time. He also set the tone to maximize technology to stretch Manteca’s modest financial means while keeping officers and the public safe.
Next came Richard Gregson and next went Richard Gregson.
Gregson — a solid law enforcement officer — was only passing through on his way up the ladder. His biggest public policy impact of note was installing an ATM in the police lobby to assure people of a safe place to get cash at night.
Next up was Dave Bricker.

Bricker helped
stem growth
of city gangs
He rolled out the first high-profile effort to push back on gangs harnessing numerous departments such as building safety and public health married with various law enforcement agencies wedded with community groups to take back Southside Park from gang members and return it to neighborhood families. Stepped up outreach by community groups with hard-nosed enforcement pushed back drive-by gunfire that during one year from late spring to August was an every other night occurrence.
Bricker — realizing Manteca was no longer a small town where citizens had numerous opportunities to shoot the breeze with officers while they are on patrol like what happens in Ripon today — instituted monthly coffee with the chief at various Manteca restaurants. It was another way to have an ear on community concerns.
Bricker also founded the Police Chief’s Foundation that works to support non-profit groups that deal with youth and such that ultimately are working to reduce issues that can lead to crime.
Bricker was at the helm when budget cuts slammed cities across the nation including Manteca due to the Great Recession.
Obligacion followed Bricker.

Approach to homeless
issues will have a
lasting impact on city
He was able to successfully bring back a four-man gang suppression unit tapping into police endowment funds paid by several developers.  He took an even more fine-tuned approach than what his predecessors had in deploying officers.
In doing so response time never lagged on top priority calls where lives were in danger or a serious property crime was in progress despite the city growing and having a reduced police force.
Obligacion’s legacy besides working hand-in-hand with his officers to deal with serious crimes — felonies such as burglary, robbery, auto theft, murder, and rape that the FBI monitors to determine the success of the war on crime — that have steadily dropped over the years based on incidents per 1,000 residents is how he tackled homeless concerns.
For 20 years the pattern was predictable. Homeless complaints would grow as numbers increased in certain locations — mostly parks — bringing an increase in complaints about needles, broken beer, used condoms, vulgar behavior, camping, and defecating on the floors of park restrooms.
Police would respond by applying pressure. The troublemakers among the homeless would move along. Then perhaps a year or so later the problems would ramp up again, the public would complain, police would step up pressure, and the cycle would continue.
Obligacion changed the game. It was clear that homeless shelters for single men weren’t an answer anyone thought would work including his ultimate bosses on the city council.  That prompted Obligacion to take a pragmatic approach using officers on the street to direct homeless to resources whenever possible, working with the council to put legal tools in place to help police deal more effectively with egregious homeless issues involving breaking the law, and then enforcing the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law per se when it came to quality of life crimes.
The decision to create community resource officer positions with the primary task being to address homeless issues took that strategy to another level.
With only one of the two positions filled since mid-July, efforts of the Manteca Police Department have gotten 67 people off the streets either into rehab programs are reunited with their families often more than a hundred miles away. It has also helped to bring community outreach groups together to step up services for the homeless.
Four of the five — Gregson is the exception — are still a part of the Manteca community. That says a lot about the four retired police chiefs as it does about Manteca.
Their community service endeavors are impressive. Halford leads the pack whether it is assisting the Boys & Girls Club with a variety of issues including tech, helping stage the Great Valley Bookfest or working to serve 1,500 Thanksgiving meals among a long list of other things.
Obligacion is no slouch when it comes to community service.
Just ask the kids next month when the Manteca Rotary serves free omelets and pancakes for lunch during a school break at the Boys & Girls Club. Ask any kid there. They’ll tell you Obligacion makes one mean Mickey Mouse pancake.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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