Assistant chief Shelley Zimmerman says community support vital to police work in La Jolla
By Susan DeMaggio
Shelley Zimmerman told the room full of people who came to hear details about her 30-year career in law enforcement that she never imagined she would be promoted to Assistant Chief of Police in San Diego.
“Me, a kid from Cleveland with this dream job … how did I get here? I have lot of experience and training, but so do others.
“One thing I know is that I’ve chosen to live my life with a positive outlook, and when you have a positive outlook, you can influence people,” she said. “You can be that person who makes a day better for someone.”
As guest of the La Jolla Community Center’s Distinguished Speakers Series, Zimmerman said she loves — really loves — being a police officer because it is the only job where you can use everything you’ve ever learned, no matter how seemingly insignificant. “Being a police officer is having a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth. I never imagined … I love it.”
Having earned many awards and citations for her work in Vice, Narcotics, Internal Affairs, the Mayor’s Executive Protection Detail, and Multi-Cultural Community Relations, these days her time is spent overseeing the Neighborhood Policing section. This includes: the Regional Police Academy, Backgrounds, In-Service and Field Training, Juvenile Administration, the Police Range, Volunteer Services, Information Services, Crime Analysis, Communications and Human Resources.
She is also the police liaison with the Commission on Gang Prevention, STAR-PAL, Crime Stoppers, Labor Relations, SD Police Foundation, the Hotel/Motel Association, and the Chief’s Advisory Boards.
In her spare time, she is training for the Triathlon Challenge, Oct. 20 at La Jolla Cove, to raise money for prosthesis’s for injured first responders.
“I like giving back to my community,” she said. “It’s who I am.”
Zimmerman, a graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in criminal justice and a graduate of the FBI National Academy, chronicled her rise through the ranks. Her stories mirrored police drama plot lines, “but I’m leaving out the hours of paperwork cops must put in —they never show that on TV,” she joked.
In the 1980s, as a rookie with a youthful face, Zimmerman said she was sent undercover in the high schools to report on the drug scene.
“Kids were doing meth lines on books and making pipes to smoke marijuana in shop class,” she said. “I bought acid, meth, PCP, cocaine — often right in class – it was bad.
“For my next assignment, I went undercover as a prostitute in Vice, and I must have done a great job because my sergeant said, “Zimmerman, you’re the best prostitute out there,” she laughed. “Oh, I have many vice stories, but of course I can’t tell you … From night vice, I went to day vice, gambling, narcotics … eventually I was captain of the Northern Division, where I couldn’t believe my luck – walking the beach, watching the seals… I can testify that with the alcohol ban, the beaches became so much more family friendly. And as for the seals, I got so familiar with them that I named them.
“I never took an assignment for more than three years. I’ve worked every patrol command, and there are nine of them. No two days are ever alike for me.”
Zimmerman acknowledged that in San Diego (with 340 square miles and 1.3 million people), the police force at 1,969 officers is stretched thin. It’s down about 110 agents, and struggles with a recruitment and retention issue. (Police recruits earn $23.22/hour, $48,000/year. Police Officer Level 1 earns $26.04-$28.59 hour, $54,000-$60,000/year.)
Zimmerman said 700 community volunteers and 1,000 Neighborhood Watch captains are the city’s keys to curbing crime.
“San Diego communities are caring; neighbors help neighbors, that’s been the case in the wild fires, the big power outage … we’re using social networking (check out nextdoor.com) to help connect with folks.”
When Zimmerman took questions from the audience, people wanted to know how to report burned out street lights, motorists who don’t know the rules of roundabouts, and dog owners whose canines charge walkers. In all cases, her answer was: Call Northern Division Officer Larry Hesselgesser at (858) 552-1700.
“Police can’t address problems they don’t know about,” she said. “You can all help by being our eyes and ears in the neighborhoods.”
Zimmerman said her career was inspired by her father, a World War II veteran who served in three theaters, became a lawyer, and raised four successful children.
Her presentation ended in a round of applause, and an appreciative comment from a listener, “You are an admirable young lady, and I will tell my grandchildren about you!”
Crime Fighting Resources
• Emergencies: 911
• Northern Division Officer Larry Hesselgesser: (858) 552-1700
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- Committee to begin interviews for new UCSD chancellor this month
- Vets enjoy surfing at La Jolla Shores
- Solar-powered trash compactors coming to La Jolla’s Kellogg Park
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