Almanac: To protect and serve Claremont...and a lot more
Claremont boasts a city-style police force with a small-town feel thanks to Claremont’s own, Police Chief Paul Cooper.
One look at Claremont Police Department’s $2 million dollar mobile command center and it’s obvious that this isn’t Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. With the right kind of leadership and a dedicated chief, however, Claremont feels more like a hamlet than a metropolis.
“As a Claremont resident all his life, Paul brings a unique perspective to his role as chief,” says City Manager Tony Ramos. “When making decisions for the department's future, he carefully weighs the long-term effect on the community, knowing the decisions he makes will impact him both as a resident and the police chief.”
Chief Cooper probably knows the city as well as anyone. He moved to Claremont when he was 11 years old and grew up playing on the same streets he’s now been entrusted by the city to keep safe.
He attended Sycamore Elementary, El Roble Intermediate School and Claremont High School (CHS), but it was during Paul’s sophomore year when his career with the city and his commitment to the community began to blossom. “I had a job with the parks and rec department,” he recalls. “I learned to drive a backhoe, took care of the fields, watered…you name it, I did it!” It was a job he did, and did well, until he graduated from CHS in 1980.
With a goal of joining the military to fly jets after graduation, his aspirations quickly changed following a police ride-along, which propelled him to pursue a career in law enforcement. He took a job with the Claremont Colleges Safety Department and wasted no time enrolling in the San Bernardino County Reserve Academy.
After graduating from the academy in 1981, the future police chief continued working for the colleges and took a second job as a reserve officer for the city of La Verne in 1983. He maintained both positions before leaving campus safety in 1984. The following year, in 1985, he enrolled in the Riverside Sheriffs Academy and while there, he was hired by the Claremont PD.
The rest is Claremont history.
“I initially wanted to start my career here,” Chief Cooper said. “Claremont is nice because you know everyone. You’re a person, not a number.”
During his 29 years in law enforcement, Chief Cooper has worked a variety of assignments in patrol, traffic, training and administration, working his way up the ranks. He started his career as a Claremont police officer and was promoted to the position of police agent, now known as corporal, in 1988. Six years later, in 1994, he was promoted to sergeant, followed by lieutenant in 1996. In 2005, he was again promoted, this time to captain of operations and held that rank until he was appointed to the position of Interim Police Chief in 2006.
Although they searched nationwide for their next chief, city administrators had to look no further than their own backyard when they awarded Chief Cooper the permanent position in April 2007.
“It was the highlight of my career and very humbling,” says Chief Cooper of his appointment. “Claremont is such an engaged community, and Tony Ramos is the best boss I’ve ever worked for. The city council and Tony ask me questions but they don’t interfere. They trust me to run the department and for that, I’m very fortunate.”
When he’s not serving Claremont as the Chief of Police, residents will most likely find him serving his community in other ways. Whether he’s manning the griddle with Kiwanis of Claremont at the city’s annual Fourth of July pancake breakfast or coaching with Claremont Little League, he’s constantly giving back to the community he calls home.
“Paul’s mindset has always been in the best interest of the kids in the league,” says former fellow Claremont Little League board member Randy Scott. ”He’s just a real straight shooter and a really good guy. Some might think that because of his exposure to town, how can he be anything but that? But I’m telling you, he doesn’t have an agenda. He’s always been the same guy, always outwardly trying to help.”
Adding to that is his support of Keeping the Good In Our Neighborhood (KGNH), a neighborhood watch group that encourages residents to create a relationship with one another and with local safety officers.
“What Chief Cooper has done for community policing through KGNH has been profound,” says member Betty Crocker. “He is the wind beneath our wings. Without his leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
As those in law enforcement can attest, policing is as much about communication as it is enforcement, and to this end Chief Cooper is as commited to the 38 sworn officers of his department as he is to the community he serves. Fostering open lines of communication has proved to be effective under his command, but that wasn’t always the case in the Claremont PD.
“When I started at the department, Chief [Charlie[ Lines had taken the roller-bar casters off on his office couch and his desk looked down on you. Iit was very intimidating,” explains Chief Cooper. “Today, I think there’s a lot more openness—there’s some paramilitary structures that have come down, enabling us to accomplish things much more efficiently. I have an open-door policy, even though I may not always have the answers.”
Whether if he has the answers or not, Chief Cooper’s style of leadership is paying off for Claremont. According to the city manager, by mixing community-based policing with state-of-the-art technology, Chief Cooper has established a police force that is respected both in the community and throughout California.
While other LA County communities battle rising rates of violent crimes, 90 percent of Claremont crimes involve property and auto theft. And those have decreased dramatically since he joined the force.
“Claremont had a much higher crime rate in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s,” Chief Cooper says. “Part 1 crimes, which include theft and burglaries, were almost up to 2,000 crimes per year in the ‘80s. Now, we’re just above 900. Crime has taken a significant dip but because of social media, which is often unfiltered and inaccurate, people are just more aware of it now, even though we’re looking at some of the lowest crime we’ve had in 30 years.”
The chief also notes that driving on Claremont streets is now much safer.
“In the ‘70s, traffic collisions averaged over 500-per-year, now we’re in the low 200’s,” he says. “Engineering of the roads has helped with those number as well as the addition of motorcycle officers, which I remember seeing ‘hiding’ at the golf course when I was in high school,” he adds with a chuckle.
Chief Cooper has seen a lot of changes in this town, including the evolution of police department vehicles. “When I started in Claremont, the vehicles weren’t equipped with am/fm radio. You had a police radio, a shotgun and that’s it,” says Chief Cooper. “Now you have a patrol rifle, a computer that’s got more power than the computers that ran the Apollo, in-car video, pocket recorders, all kind of medical supplies and an AED (automated external defibrillator). The officers are trained on all of it. It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come.”
In addition to his role in Claremont, Chief Cooper also currently serves as the President of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association, a title he considers another high point in an already stellar career. And despite recent speculation that retirement from the CPD is in his near future, Chief Cooper quickly puts those rumors to rest.
“I’ve committed to the city manager,” says the chief. “I’m not retiring anytime soon, just focusing on choosing the leaders of tomorrow for the department.”
However, when he does retire, he has a pretty good idea about where he’ll be spending his free time.
“I’m good friends with the principal at Claremont High School, and I joke that I’m going to be a coach,” he says. “I walk on the campus and the kids say, ‘Hi Coach, how you doing?’ There’s nothing better than that, making a difference in a child’s life and helping to instill confidence in an otherwise shy kid.”
For Ms. Crocker, it is this willingness to help and commitment to Claremont that stands out most about Paul Cooper.
“You need a guy like Chief Cooper in your corner,” says Ms. Crocker. “You need someone to inspire you to step outside of your comfort zone. He believes in Claremont and the greater good. He represents everything that is right with our community.”