The new top officer at Altadena Sheriff's Station, Capt. John Benedict started right out of the gates with a challenging week--his first day was Sunday, the day that the department responded to the home of a man .
Though Benedict's first day was a busy one, he says his priority now is to meet with community members and groups and get to know Altadena issue's and residents.
Benedict lives in Simi Valley, and has a wife and two daughters, one 14 and one 29-year-old who works for the Sheriff's Department and wants to become a deputy. He's an avid soccer fan--he coaches it and plays it. He also enjoys hiking with his dogs, though he has yet to try out Echo Mountain or the other local trails.
He has worked at the Malibu/Lost Hills and West Hollywood stations, in the county court system and, like all deputies, in the county jail system. His most recent job was as an executive aide to Chief Neil Tyler, who oversees eight of the department's 23 stations.
In that role he gained some familiarity with Altadena, but, as he says below, he wants to learn more about the community directly from residents. Below we present highlights from our interview.
Patch: From your experience of what you’ve seen about Altadena what are the major issues you expect to be dealing with here?
Benedict: Well it has only been four days, so as far as dealing with major issues I have to be general in scope. I am still getting a lot of feedback, meet with a lot of community members. I am trying to find out what a lot of the issues are at a grass roots level.
What I’ve found out so far in the four days I’ve been here is that this is a very tight-knit community. And it’s a very diverse community, which is great. Every community has issues, of course, but this community has so many people that are stakeholders involved in it and so many people that care about it that makes it a great place for me to be and a great place for the Sheriff’s Department to be involved in the community. This community is my community now–I’m probably going to spend more time here than at my own home.
Patch: For the first few months of the year through February, Altadena shows a slight uptick in crime compared to the same period in time of 2011. It’s not just isolated to Altadena–it’s actually across the county. Do you feel that it is an anomaly, too small a sample of data, or something that needs to be addressed?
Benedict: If you look at the trends from last year, they were down significantly across the board, probably nationally as well. So it is almost like we were in a bubble there for a while. It’s kind of like a real estate market almost, … the bubble is coming back to where it was before. So the increase we are seeing I don’t think you can’t really look at it as an increase–the fact of the matter is last year there was such a reduction in crime, so significant across the board, not just in Altadena but across the county and the state and nationally. The uptick is mostly in property crime and there are the economic issues we are dealing with. So am I concerned? Sure. Are we going to be proactive? Absolutely.
Patch: One thing I get from community members is that most of the time things will be quiet and then all of a sudden there will be a couple of shootings in a row, or attempted shootings, gun fire, whatever. And some of them come down to being gang related. And a lot of people I talk to don’t have experience with gang members or don’t know anything about gangs but have a vague sense they would like to do something to make the community safer. How can they get involved in that?
Benedict: One thing I’ve looked at is you have active neighborhood watch groups here. Getting involved in public safety [is] not just our job but also a community job. Everyone has to do their part. So if you see something suspicious, see something out of the ordinary, or are the victim of the crime, you should report it. That way we know what is going on in the area–we have a very good crime analyst here that looks at trends and looks at how we deal with certain ways we put our resources to be more effective. And the only way we can be more effective is to have the information. It has to be a partnership. We can’t do it ourselves.
Patch: On the complaint side, Capt. McLean was very active in going into the community and asking about complaints or issues. When I’ve heard about complaints it has to do with deputy behavior or how deputies interact with the public.
Is this something that you feel you need to look into at the department, and is it an issue you’ve heard about?
JB: It’s not an issue I’ve heard about, and I’ve talked extensively with Capt McLean. I understand he’s very active in the community, and I plan to be the same. If people have a complaint, feel they’ve been treated unjustly, it’s going to be addressed. It’s not going to be tolerated. The deputies here I think are very respectful most of the time. And it’s nothing I’ve seen that’s on the forefront. But if it is an issue it will be handled and handled appropriately–we have a process for that.