Friday, Jan. 11, 2008 | On a sunny evening in July 1994, then-Sgt. David Ramirez of the San Diego Police Department responded with some of his officers to an anonymous emergency call reporting a man with a rifle stalking up and down a Logan Heights street.
After setting up a perimeter and posting two officers as lookouts over the location where the man had been spotted, Ramirez left the scene, only to return shortly afterwards when his officers reported seeing the man in the middle of a street waving a rifle.
Ramirez sped to the scene and was the first to confront the armed man. He found himself 20 feet or so from a tall, imposing figure with what looked like towels wrapped around his lower arms and wrists. Stepping out of his patrol car, Ramirez confronted the man, who spun around, flicking open the flaps of the towels he had sewn on his jacket sleeves revealing two Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifles.
“He just turns at me and he just starts shooting at me, ‘pop, pop, pop, pop,’ ” Ramirez said, recalling the incident almost 14 years later from the comfort of his assistant chief’s office overlooking downtown. “I hit the deck and I could hear the rounds coming at me and hitting my car and falling on the street all around me.”
A few minutes later, after what Ramirez called “a crazy gun battle,” the man with the rifle was dead, having been fired upon by several police officers. Ramirez said he later learned the man was an “enforcer” for a local gang of drug dealers. He said the fact that no police officers or civilians died in the incident is something of which he’ll always be proud.
When Ramirez takes over later this month as executive assistant chief of police, the second-highest rank in the San Diego Police Department, he will bring with him 24 years of experience policing the city. He has served in almost every neighborhood of San Diego, from San Ysidro to Del Mar Heights, and was the first San Diego police officer to be awarded with a Medal of Valor and Purple Heart at the same time for the 1994 shooting battle.
Ramirez also brings with him a management style that members of the police department said is markedly different from his predecessor, Bill Maheu. Maheu has taken a job with Qualcomm and will depart from the SDPD at the end of January.
Members of the police department said Maheu was always extremely well-informed. He was the department’s “numbers guy,” they said, whose expertise was in technology and statistics. And Maheu was well-admired for winning the department new equipment and technology, police officers said.
Ramirez, who has spent his entire career at the SDPD, brings with him his own expertise, members of the department said. He is the sort of leader who will use the contacts and experience he has gained over the 24 years to help best inform him of the decisions he needs to make, they said.
“Chief Maheu’s style was: ‘I already know what the answer is, and it’s up to you to talk me out of it.’ Chief Ramirez is more of the type of person who will take input from a variety of people,” said Bill Nemec, president of the Police Officers Association.
Ramirez said he’s got great respect for Maheu and is sorry to see him go. He said he always tries to speak to as many people as possible and to get as many different perspectives on an issue before making up his mind. In practical terms, that means showing up at line-ups, the early morning meetings held at each police station, to talk to the troops, or seeking advice from experts both inside and outside the departments, he said.
“I try to build a consensus and see what other people think. I’m pretty flexible. But at the same time, when it comes to making that decision, or if it’s an urgent decision, I won’t hesitate to make it,” he said.
As he takes on the second-in-command post at the Police Department, Ramirez said his primary concern within the department will be reversing the attrition crisis that has plagued the SDPD for the last two years. Though the number of people leaving the department tapered off through the end of 2007 and recruitment has picked up in recent academies, Ramirez said the department still has a way to go to return it to its former strength.
Though he declined to comment directly on the upcoming labor negotiations season for police officers, which officially begins Friday, Ramirez acknowledged that a new labor contract that builds on the raise the city’s police officers secured last year will be a key factor in keeping cops in San Diego.
“I don’t want any officers from the San Diego Police Department to feel like they have to go to another agency. It should be the opposite. Every officer in the surrounding agencies should want to come to the San Diego Police Department, that’s the direction I want to take,” he said.
Crime-wise, Ramirez said he’s concerned by last year’s 23 percent spike in gang crime. Gangs and gang violence are and should be the number one focus of the department going into 2008, Ramirez said. Indeed, while overall violent crime dropped significantly last year, gang crime continued to swell.
The department’s been effective on the law enforcement side of battling gang crime, Ramirez said. They’ve been putting gang members and repeat offenders in jail and have been breaking up gangs, he said, but they’ve struggled when it comes to outreach in the community.
In order to really tackle the city’s gang problem, Ramirez said, the department plans to seek federal and state grants that will allow them to put in place outreach programs in schools and communities that will focus on the breeding grounds for gangs. Ramirez said he also plans to work closely with the city’s gang commission as the department deals with the gang issue.
Now that he’s in the department’s No. 2 spot, Ramirez smiled self-consciously when asked if he hopes to one day take up residence in Chief Bill Lansdowne’s corner office. He said, diplomatically, that he hopes Lansdowne is around for many years to come.
And Maheu, who gave up the all-but-certain chance of becoming the city’s next police chief, said the department and the city should focus on who the leadership is now, not what might be coming down the pipeline.
“We have a chief right now, so I wouldn’t worry about that until chief Lansdowne steps down,” he said.
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