Seaside Deputy Police Chief Louis Lumpkin never planned to be a cop. He graduated in 1983 from Seaside High School then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with the intention of becoming a probate lawyer. His plans changed after he got married during his senior year of college and his wife got pregnant, and he needed to get a career, fast, to support his family.
Lumpkin has worked for Seaside Police Department for 28 years, and spoke with the Weekly about changes in the community over his lifetime.
Weekly: What was your early career like as a young officer in Seaside?
Lumpkin: I came home after being away for college and it was right in the middle of the crack epidemic. I saw a lot of people I grew up with who were addicted. At the time, no one knew I was an officer and my first assignment was a drug-buy officer.
I was the only black officer on the task force at 22. It was sad to bust people I knew, and see what their lives had become.
How has the drug world changed in Seaside?
The types of drugs and the methods of selling have changed. Growing up, I saw marijuana and heroin users. Crack cocaine was everywhere.
Now it’s more meth, and heroin is making comeback due to Oxycontin, which is synthetic, prescription heroin. Back then, the drugs were blatantly out in the open.
There were streets where it was an open-air drug market.
With drugs so prevalent, was it hard coming on as a narcotics officer?
We were busy. Each person on the team averaged one drug-dealing arrest per day for a year straight.
What calmed down the drug scene?
The closure of Fort Ord and several large-scale operations really helped. The District Attorney’s office indicted a lot of dealers. Technology helped a lot too, when we were able to put cameras in the cars.
Rodney King changed all that though, because people started not trusting the police and indictments became much harder. Small, pinhole cameras helped back up what officers did.
Juries started demanding video, and there was a big break in trust of law enforcement.
Increasingly, the public is asking for more and better recording of police work. What do officers think about that?
Officers are worried about the [public’s] perception. We’re constantly briefing our officers and making them aware that it’s a new world. When I was in the academy, it was impressed upon us that someone saw everything you were doing, so do the right thing.
It’s a simple concept, but it needs reinforcing.
You’ve shot suspects before. Have those shootings changed your approach to policing?
It has made me understand public perception.
[Officer-involved shootings] affect how people think of you, maybe calling you a “killer.” It affects your family and your interactions in public.
With the increase in police scrutiny, why would anyone want to be a police officer these days?
It is a very hard time to come into the job. We have a lot of trouble trying to recruit.
When I was coming up, there were a few hundred guys for two positions. It’s hard to tell a kid that it’s a lot of overtime, high stress and a high divorce rate, and sometimes someone will say, “Thank you.”
I think a lot of people want to give back to the community and we need to find those people who have that something inside them.
What are the biggest issues facing the city of Seaside right now?
Recruitment and staffing are big. Our population is changing and we have a different clientele. We’re dealing with a lot more homeless, and not just drug addicts; we have a serious homeless issue.
What really helps is when officers build relationships with the community. Our department hasn’t had a large turnover in years, so our officers know people. It should be the old idea of the cop walking the beat, meeting business owners and homeowners and relying on tips from them.
Knowing your residents helps 100 percent. A good police department is not an occupying army; the community should be telling us how to police them.