San Diego Police Department Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser — La Jolla’s favorite man in blue — has been a constant presence in The Village at community meetings, Neighborhood Watch gatherings and all things having to do with safety.
The talkative dad-of-two and artist-turned-officer has been with the San Diego Police Force for more than 20 years and has a wealth of knowledge on the inner-workings of the department ... knowledge he happily shares to encourage safety and take care of things that “fall through the cracks.”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, near Pasadena, went to grade school through high school there. I went to Pasadena City College and thought I would be an artist, but I didn’t want to be a starving artist.
What was your art medium?
I did a lot of advertising and graphic art, and I did watercolor before law enforcement. My thought was I could do law enforcement and have art to fall back on. I had aspirations to go to the Pasadena Art Center, and it’s really hard to get in there. Some of the people working on projects were up for days in a row and it was a little overwhelming. When law enforcement became a reality, I knew I could do my art later in life, if I wanted to.
How did your career in law enforcement evolve?
My first job was working with my dad as a mechanic. I did a couple of summers and figured it wasn’t for me. My next-door neighbor at the time was a K9 officer, so as I was growing up, I had that influence. I went on some ride-alongs with him and fell in love with law enforcement.
I started as a civilian jailer and parking control officer before I turned 21. I rode around in a little Cushman, one of those three-wheeled vehicles, before I became a police officer. I became a reserve officer for Monterey Park Police Department (near east Los Angeles) and when I decided to go full time, I went to the LA Sheriff’s Department. I did two years in the jail there, then went on to patrol, but that was during the time of the Los Angeles riots (1992). I decided to move to San Diego after that.
What was it like during the LA riots?
I was at the Marina Del Rey Sheriff’s station at the time. One of our areas was Ladera Heights, which is probably a mile or two from the flash point. I was in the patrol department, so we immediately went on 12-hour shifts, so 12 hours on and 12 hours off.
We had riot helmets on the whole time. We would ride four and sometimes five deep in a car as we went place to place. It was different. You could feel it in the air when you drove around; you saw buildings on fire, people being shot, people pointing guns out their car windows. It was people at their worst.
As we gained more control and as the days went by, things started to slow down and there was a feeling of things getting back under control. We just knew it would take some time. It was a tense time in law enforcement. There have been a lot of changes in law enforcement since.
What prompted the move to San Diego?
There was a lot going on in LA. … I had always come to San Diego on vacation, it was near and dear to me. And up in LA, there were fires, floods, earthquakes and the riots. Every time we had a disaster, it was 12 on and 12 off. I thought it was a good time to move. That was in the early 1990s.
What is your job like now?
My true love in law enforcement was being on the bicycle patrol with the beach team and when I was with LA, I worked at the Marina Del Rey (bay side) station and loved being on the boats, and I love diving. I got experience working on the police boat. When I came here, they had a Harbor Unit in Mission Bay. I was on that team for 10 years, and on the joint dive-team with the lifeguards. I’m still the senior boat operator. If there is a dive call-out, I would assist the lifeguards on that.
The City disbanded the Harbor Unit in 2009 for budget reasons. I would have stayed on harbor patrol my entire career. But when that happened, the department put all the (harbor) officers back on street patrol. The captain at the time asked if I would be a community relations officer. He thought I would be good with people. I’d been doing shift work for 20-some years and thought it would be nice to have a steady shift with weekends off.
I could take my experience and educate the public on crime prevention … people need to be more savvy about protecting their house and property. We’re seeing a lot more quality-of-life crimes and we don’t have the luxury of patrolling like we used to.
What does an average day entail?
I work four, 10-hour shifts, so I have three days off a week (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). Usually, when I come in on Tuesday, I have that whole day to catch up. I’ll have 300-400 e-mails I must go through and sometimes half of those involve more investigation and looking things up for people. The longer I’ve been here, the more people have my e-mail address and the more meetings I go to.
I like to think of this position as taking care of the things that fall through the cracks. Part of my job is to filter questions to the best person able to answer a citizen’s inquiry. I can guide them or I will be the in-between. There are also radio calls and many repeat calls that take our officers’ time away. So we try to help the situation however we can so these officers don’t have to go to the same location so many times.
And that’s Tuesday (laughs).
The e-mails come throughout the week and then there are meetings. We have Neighborhood Watch meetings with coordinators … we’ll meet and talk to 20 or so neighbors for an hour. We let them know what Neighborhood Watch is all about, introduce them to nextdoor.com and let them know what the situation is with the police and how they can help us and we can all work together.
Then there are other meetings here and there.
Northern Division has two Community Relations Officers and we split our duties; I have all the beach communities and areas west of the I-5 freeway, and my partner has the eastern communities.
What do you do in your free time?
I’ve always had an artistic background, so I got into music. I play guitar, sing and write my own songs. That is fulfilling my artistic side. That’s something most people don’t know about me.
I also love pirate(y) stuff. Diving might be something I do in my retirement. There are a lot of shipwrecks off the coast of Florida and there’s a lot of cool stuff out there. It’s intriguing to me.
What are you musical influences?
Rock ‘n’ roll was the big influence growing up in the ’80s — your Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Van Halen. I also like country-rock more so than true country. I also like easy-listening stuff like jazz. I like a variety.
What are your favorite foods?
I’m a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy. But I’ve been getting into intermittent fasting, so no snacks in between. I’ll have big meals, no snacking. I also love all kinds of fish.
What about your favorite color?
Editor’s Note: The “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! La Jolla Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to email@example.com or call us at (858) 875-5950.