An interview with UC Davis Police Chief Joe Farrow

KATE SHASKY / UC DAVIS POLICE DEPARTMENT

Chief talks about recent Davis thefts, how to secure one’s belongings, fostering better police-to-community relationship

The California Aggie recently sat down for a question-and-answer conversation with UC Davis Police Chief Joseph (Joe) Farrow. Below is a transcript of the interview. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

The California Aggie: It seems kind of out of the blue for some people that there has been this uptick in thefts and robberies in Davis. From your knowledge, is this a statistical uptick in what we are seeing, or is it on par with how many robberies we see in a year, but just concentrated in one time frame?

 

Chief Joe Farrow: I think it’s the latter. We have thefts from time to time. The stealing of laptops is not unusual on this campus, and the stealing of backpacks isn’t either. Those burglaries that we had occurred three weekends in a row, which really got our attention. I think statistically speaking, we are probably at the same amount. They were concentrated in a short time frame, which led us to believe we were really looking for the same person on multiple of these cases.

 

TCA: The laptop thefts off campus have been particularly alarming to students. How is the UC Davis Police Department working with the City of Davis and assessing these crimes?

 

CJF: Those are very brave. Those are very bizarre. We are working very closely with the City of Davis—they’ve formed a little task force to take a look at this issue. […] Certainly there are a lot of people here with laptops, so it’s easy for the thieves to concentrate here.

 

These are all crimes of opportunity. They are very specifically looking for a device: laptops, cell phones, backpacks. They see them in plain view and I think they make an assessment. It’s all about the opportunity. They see it, they look around the room, think, “I can grab this thing and be faster than the owner,” and they run.

 

TCA: When it comes to the robberies that have been at residences, do they involve breaking and entering or were the homes not properly secured?

 

CJF: They weren’t secured. None of them were secured. One of them has a sliding door that was left partially open with items that were in plain view. This campus is relatively safe. For as many people as we have on this campus, it is relatively safe. I think for the most part, what we have to teach ourselves is: watch out for what is going on, understand my surroundings and understand that there are people here that will take your backpack if you leave it in the wrong place.

 

TCA: What can people do to secure their belongings when they are out and about and what can they do to secure their homes?

 

CJF: I used to teach a class, and I have a corny way of looking at it, but all crimes have three elements: the bad guy, the victim and then we have what they call the “den of iniquity”—the perfect place to commit the crime. If one of those is missing, nothing happens. If you eliminate any of the three, you have no crime.  

 

Let’s take the cars. All of the vehicle break-ins have one thing in common — the property that was stolen was inside the cab. They are not breaking into trunks because they can’t see in. Remember, it’s all about opportunity. Securing property out of sight is the best way to go.

 

In terms of the residence — lock the door. Secure belongings out of sight, especially in the common areas. You don’t always know who you are surrounded by. Take your property with you; keep it in a lockable place.

 

If out and about on the town at night, for example, I think the best advice I would ever tell anybody is to recognize the fact that some of the stuff you have may be valuable and, somebody, if given the opportunity, will take it from you.

 

TCA: When it comes to situations where there is kind of a squabble over belongings, is it worth it to try and get your items back?

 

CJF: It’s easy for you and I to say, “Just let them have it.” What happens is that the fight in all of us kind of materializes, but there’s nothing worth getting seriously hurt over or killed over. Phones and cameras and stuff, they can all be replaced. But we understand the inherent desire for some people to go, “Oh, this is just wrong.” But you take risk. I think the common play is to just let it go. Don’t let yourself become more of a victim than you already are. Be a good witness — try to identify somebody, try to get a license plate number. Let’s see if we can’t go back and get it back at some point.

 

TCA: What are some details about the robbery that occurred in Lot 47, and what are some updates you can give?

 

CJF: It was right outside of the Tercero Housing Area. We thought it was four, but it was actually five of our students: three first-years, a second-year and a fourth-year. They had come back and it was late at night. It was the first week of school. They were out in the parking lot, just talking.

 

They see a car go by, and they don’t pay much attention to it. But then it comes back by a second time, and they take notice of it. The third time it comes, it was really odd because they turned off their headlights. Their suspicion got up a little bit, thinking, ‘What is all this about?’

 

At that point, the car pulled up, two individuals got out of the car, and they had a gun in their waistband. They could see the silhouette of a gun — they didn’t pull it out, but they knew they had it, or all five of them believed that they had it. They said, “We want all of your property.”

 

One of the students was very hesitant in doing that. She didn’t want to give up her property. One of the suspects hit her a couple times. They were able to grab whatever she was holding and they fled the scene.

 

We responded in 90 seconds. That’s pretty fast. We tried to lock down the campus as fast as we could, but they got off campus. We have some really good leads on that one. We have two people assigned to that full time. That one is progressing very well.

 

The student that was hit was seen by paramedics. I think she had a little bit of swelling. She was treated at the scene and released.

 

This incident is particularly concerning. These students, three of them have been on campus for a week. We all feel horrible that that happened. I think the students appreciated the fact that everybody cares.

 

CJF: Now are you familiar with some of these scam calls going on?

 

TCA: No, I am not.

 

CJF: You ever get any of those robotic calls, telling you you’ve won the lottery, or an email saying you’re a first cousin of King so-and-so, and I have a million dollars? Give me a bank account number and I can put the money in?

 

We have students who are falling for some of those scams because they have never heard of them before. We are really working hard with our international students in that scamming is alive and well on this campus. We have had five students who have been victimized by phone and email scams, where they pose as some sort of legal authority, asking for money. And once you pay them, … you’ll never get it back and there’s nothing we can do about it.

 

The scam call in Mandarin that comes out, they are talking about visas, your [student] visa is messed up. It scares people. […] If you’re not aware of these scams, you’re like “Mom, Dad, whoever, I need $216 to fix this issue with my visa.” A lot of times you don’t know if you’re the victim or not, but you’re never going to get the money back.

 

I feel so bad because we meet with these students and they look at you like, “Can you get our money back?” And I already know, no. You’re never going to get it back. We had one student that paid $4,000, that’s the highest.

 

Farrow then explained the steps that are being taken to secure the campus.

 

CJF: We are really in the process of looking at overall security on this campus. We are putting in more of those blue lights, those cameras. In fact, four or five of them are going in as we speak. We are looking at ways that we can do keycard access to buildings and have additional cameras on campus. We have some cameras on campus, just not that many. So your overall security is going to be enhanced.

Relatively speaking, this is one of the safest campuses out there. Our number one theft still is bicycle theft, and as long as we can keep it at that, that’s good, right? That’s good. And a lot of those bicycle thefts are because they are unlocked, they are locked in the wrong place, or the locks they have are easily violated.

 

Farrow went on to describe the public image of the UC Davis Police Department.

 

CJF: We don’t get every vote. In fact, sometimes people are very, very angry with the police. We get all that and we are listening to that. A lot of the things you hear and see on TV, that’s not us. We are trying to make this organization the best we can. We are completely changing the culture of this police department.

 

TCA: Because people still think back to 2011, that’s what everyone’s image is.

 

CJF: It’s funny you mention that. About a week ago, I was waiting for somebody at the airport and I was just scrolling on YouTube and here comes UC Davis, the pepper spray. So I’m sitting there, and I’m just watching every one of these videos. There’s like an hour.

 

TCA: There are videos of the incident, and there’s Katehi’s Walk of Shame.

 

CJF: Yeah, I saw that. I always tell everybody [that] people tell me, “I bet you just want to forget about it.” And I say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to forget that. I want that as a reminder of an event in time that has defined us and has defined this police department.’

 

Now the real issue is, can you change? Can people see the meaningful change where that becomes the distant past and they now focus on today? What we are trying to do here is that it’s all about this new, contemporary values system that we have, which I call the 21st century model of policing. It’s all about partnership. […] My job is for you to be able to walk around this campus at 9 at night and feel safe. That’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to create. The only way I can do that is through partnership.

 

So I’m trying to get past the pepper spray, but also acknowledge that that wasn’t our finest moment and that we wounded this entire campus for years and years and years to come.

 

Since this interview took place, there have been at least two additional robberies in the City of Davis.

 

Written by: Kenton Goldsby — campus@theaggie.org