University Police Chief Mike Guerin’s career will come full circle this Friday morning when he puts on his uniform, gets in a black-and-white and begins a patrol shift.
“I’m going to end the way I began,” Guerin says, reflecting on his first day in law enforcement 38 years ago. “I’m going to take the calls as they come and try to provide the kind of service that the university community expects and deserves.”
He acknowledges that his final radio transmission Friday afternoon around 3 might prove difficult.
“I will pick up the microphone and say, ‘I’m 10-7,’ which is the radio code for out of service. Normally when you say that, you know you’re coming back the next day. But to know that I won’t be saying that anymore will be quite a moment for me.”
That 10-7 message will mark the end of a law enforcement career that began as a patrol officer in La Verne in 1976, included high-profile positions in Pasadena and Sacramento, and culminated with nine years as chief of police at Cal Poly Pomona. Along the way, Guerin made his share of arrests, participated in numerous investigations, established himself as an expert police spokesman, did his part to ensure that major events went off without a hitch – and played a direct role in saving two lives.
The first came more than 20 years ago when he heard screams at the swimming pool of a Palm Springs motel, where he was getting a little R&R with his family. He ran downstairs and saw a child motionless in the water.
“It’s just the way they show it on TV: People are standing around the pool screaming, no one has jumped in, and here’s this kid at the bottom,” Guerin says. “I’ve never been highly confident that I could pull someone out, but the good news is that there was an angel working with me that day, someone I had never met. He fished the kid out and brought him to me.”
Countless first-aid classes and refresher courses kicked in, and Guerin quickly provided CPR. Within moments, he knew the little boy would survive: “It was the best thing that could happen. The kid throws up on me and starts coughing and crying.” Fire department paramedics took over from there, and Guerin resumed his vacation. To this day, he does not know the child’s name.
A few years later, when Guerin was working as assistant chief in the Law Enforcement Division of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, he got word of a horrific train derailment on the outskirts of San Bernardino. “The train was literally lying on several houses, and we knew there were people under there,” he recalls.
Dogs trained to recognize the scent of a human amid accident debris were flown in, and soon one alerted. Still, hours passed and rescuers could not find a survivor, or even a body.
“There’s an old adage: You do everything you can, and then you do it one more time, and then you can walk away if you’re unsuccessful,” Guerin says. “The dogs searched a final time, and workers dug. One hit something with his shovel but thought it was a rock.
“He reached down to move the rock, and a hand grabs him.”
Guerin came to Cal Poly Pomona in 2004, primarily out of a desire to move back to Southern California to be near his parents and his adult children. He initially applied for the chief’s job at Cal State San Bernardino, “but as luck would have it, I was No. 2.” Shortly thereafter, the position opened at Cal Poly Pomona. After making it to the final round, he faced a series of meetings with the campus community – meetings that the seasoned pro handled with aplomb.
“I knew the crime – or lack thereof – at Cal Poly Pomona and the student body and the demographics, and I had gone to school here [working on a master’s degree], so I kind a feel for it,” he says. “It really fell into place, like it was meant to be, and I’ve never regretted it one day.”
He says that the vice president who hired him might have had second thoughts “because once I arrived, this bucolic environment suddenly had all sorts of problems.”
Construction crews hit gas lines, forcing evacuations. A student committed suicide. A plane crashed at Spadra field, killing two people, including a former fellow police officer in Pasadena. His worst experience – “the most scared I have even been” – came when the campus police dispatch center received a call that a car had plowed into the children’s center. Guerin’s car was the closest to the scene, and he arrived moments later.
“I just knew there would be dead or dying kids. The SUV had literally run into the building. It was in the middle of the class. … I walked in with my flashlight, and it was eerily quiet. I looked under that SUV, and there was nobody. There was no teacher, no kids. Then the woman running the child care center came running over, and I asked where everyone was. She said they were out for their walk, and it was such a nice day that they decided to stay out an extra 10 minutes. There was nobody in the classroom when the car hit.” A concrete barrier now protects the front of the building.
Guerin says the pace slowed considerably after his first year on campus, though the focus of the department remains unchanged.
“We have a police department that focuses on the success of our students. We’re not unique, but I think we’re pretty good at it. We have a depth of understanding of what the issues are and what our students need. When all is said and done, hopefully they’ve never had to deal with us, but we were there at 3 in the morning looking out at their car, maybe getting them out of a jam, or helping them through a problem.”
Guerin will not disappear from campus after Friday. Even in retirement, he plans to help complete an upgrade to the police radio system, and he might even complete that master’s. Nearly four decades of law enforcement – sometimes seeing people at their worst – have given him a perspective about good and evil but have not soured him on life.
“I’m a man of faith – not just religious faith, but faith in human beings,” he says. “I still believe that most people want to do the right thing. They want to get through life helping one another to prosper, to be safe. But I’ve also found that there are a few people who aren’t part of that paradigm. They believe in preying on other people. I’ve had to be involved in a few cases where I saw that. There will always be a case for someone to be awake at 3 in the morning to be prepared to help at those times, and I’m very proud to have been one of those people.”
He Can Laugh About It Now
When you’re a young cop, you do embarrassing things sometimes, Chief Mike Guerin says. One of his most memorable moments came during one of his first late-night patrols in La Verne.
I’m in this housing development next to the Angeles National Forest, looking for anything that seems out of place. It’s pitch dark, and in the distance I hear “Help! Help!”
Whether you admit it or not, you’re always a little scared when you start this job – when you’re 21 years old and you have a gun on your side and you don’t know what’s around the next corner. The first thing I do is shut all the lights off and start creeping the car forward hoping to aim for the sound. I hear “Help! Help” a little louder, so I know I’m going in the right direction, but I still can’t see anything.
I start to pick up the radio microphone because I know that whatever it is, it’s really bad, and I’m way out on the edge of town. “Help! Help!” It’s getting louder, and I’m sure that I’m going to have to confront evil face to face.
I turn the headlights on, and what’s in front of me but a freakin’ peacock. I didn’t know if I should thank the peacock for not being a person in trouble – or if I should shoot it for sounding so much like someone screaming for help. Most of all, I was glad I didn’t key the microphone and call for the world to help me, so that they could see me wrestle a peacock to the ground.