After 11 years as the Crescent City Police chief and more than 40 years in law enforcement, Doug Plack is hanging up the badge at the close of July but maintaining his commitment to the community of Del Norte County.
Thanks to the support of several Crescent City councils, city staff, police officers and police department staff, Plack said he is proud to have implemented a more proactive form of law enforcement and programs that embrace a "community-oriented policing philosophy."
"Law enforcement in an earlier period of time was all a reactive type of patrol; in other words you get a call and you respond," Plack said during an interview in his office this week. "Twenty-first century policing did not embrace that concept."
Officers serving under Plack have been expected to be more prepared to detect crimes in progress and be cognizant of when the potential elements for crime are present in order to take action before a call to dispatch is made.
Creating an anonymous crime-tip hotline was another thing that Plack supported that helps the community work with police to fight crime.
Programs implemented under Plack, like the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, embody the community-oriented policing concept by solidifying relationships between the community and law enforcement to improve everyone's quality of life, Plack said.
The Crime Free Multi-Housing Program was designed to help tenants, landlords, and rental property managers prevent illegal activity on rental properties by providing training and resources for strengthening rental agreements, screening applicants and being proactive when it comes to recognizing drug activity or other crime, Plack said.
"That program alone has changed the makeup of the city from 2003 to now, and you can see the changes and the benefits the city has received in our annual report every single year," Plack said. "It has continued to show a decrease in crime occurring in apartment complexes that belong to this program. I think that is one of the biggest accomplishments that we've had here."
The annual report itself was something that Plack got started "because it's important that the community knows exactly what the police department does on a case-by-case basis."
A lack of complaints against the police department during his watch gives Plack reason to believe that he has reached his goal of having the police department gain the community's trust.
"I credit my successes with the support and confidence of the City Council, city staff and my officers - I couldn't have done it without them," Plack said.
Plack is also proud of the project undertaken by the Crescent City government and the police department to address the crime-laden transient camp in the Elk Creek area behind Crescent City's Safeway grocery market.
"We entered that project with a humanitarian approach; we wanted to give (transients) an opportunity to know the services that are available from homeless advocates," Plack said. "We went back there not as a sweep but offering our knowledge, educating them and offering them alternatives for lifestyle changes while still pursuing the ultimate goal of clearing the undergrowth back there," which Plack said was needed for environmental and health reasons.
Many of the 50andndash;75 people contacted behind Safeway took advantage of the social services police presented, and while Plack concedes that many others continued the same type of lifestyle, they didn't reconvene in that same location.
"With the services that we have, I think we did a really remarkable job on that - short of a shelter, which a community this size cannot really afford," Plack said.
In a similar vein, Plack noted how Crescent City's quality of life was significantly improved by the police department and city's joint development of a panhandling ordinance that limits the hours, locations and manner of solicitation; a camping ordinance, a social-host ordinance and fireworks ordinance.
'Individuals of tomorrow'
All of the programs that have been implemented under Plack have had some element of focusing on the children of the community, Plack said. One example is the Gang Resistant Education and Training program that teaches kids lifestyle choices, anger management, diversity tolerance and how to handle other problems they might face.
"They're the individuals of tomorrow.We have to really mentor them and have to be able to guide them and teach them on what a strong, healthy society is all about," Plack said.
He hopes that the school resource officer, which was eliminated by the county school district to save money, will be brought back, he said.
The school resource officer is a Crescent City Police officer who provides a law enforcement presence on campus and acts as a counselor, educating students on their constitutional rights and drug abuse, among other things.
The school resource officer, in cooperation with California Highway Patrol, implemented the Every 15 Minutes program, which discourages teen drunk driving, and there has not been a fatality in a local teen driving accident since it was started, Plack said.
The organizations that Plack participates in are frequently youth-oriented, including being a district chairman for Boy Scouts, getting involved in Special Olympics, CASA, Family Resource Center, Safe Routes to School Committee, the domestic violence task force, and the Juvenile Justice Council.
"It's all about the quality of life for the children, and we need to show them as adults that they are a viable future that we need to protect," Plack said. "I really believe that focusing on these types of youth organizations is going to decrease law enforcement's job in the future."
When he took the chief position in 2003, Plack had hoped to make the department nationally accredited within a five-year period, but once he became chief, he realized there were more important demands on his time.
Simply having the necessary gear for his officers was a pressing demand, so Plack successfully worked on grants to pay for a variety of things, like a security and surveillance system for the department, Tasers for both the department and sheriff's office, shotguns and AR-15s for officers, wearable video cameras for officers, a roadside sobriety checkpoint trailer and even a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"We probably saved the city over $1.5 million from anywhere from cameras to vehicles received for the city's use," Plack said.
Plack believes that law enforcement in Crescent City and Del Norte County could benefit further from a centralized communication center that would be used by all agencies in the county.
Crescent City love affair
Plack was first introduced to Crescent City by a friend he knew during his Coast Guard days and has been visiting the area since 1975.
Plack met his wife while working for the Arvada Police Department in Colorado, where he worked before moving to California.
"My wife had never been to the ocean. Growing up in Jersey, as I did, I was always around the ocean, so she came out here and fell in love with the place, so when it was time for us to get married we decided to get married out here," Plack said.
Soon after the wedding in 1990, Plack started making moves to bring his cop career to California by preparing for the state certification.
The Columbine High School massacre was a traumatic event that further encouraged Plack to make the move to California. He was eligible for retirement in Arvada, but felt that he still had more to give back through law enforcement.
He was hired as a major crimes detective for the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office in 2000 and progressed through the ranks to being captain and commander before applying for the police chief position.
As chief, Plack furthered his credentials by graduating from the FBI National Academy Program in 2006, an exclusive group of crime-fighters representing one half of 1 percent of all law enforcement in the entire world.
Even after 40 years in law enforcement, Plack has been able to keep his sense of humor and try to have fun in life.
"I made a promise to myself that this job would not make me cold and callous," Plack said. He recharges his spirits by taking rides on his motorcycle or in his Shelby Cobra to escape the "island" of Crescent City.
"Sometimes you look at Crescent City as an island, and as beautiful as the island is, you feel like it's time to fly back to the mainland every once in awhile," he said. "But once you come back you feel so good about your return to this beautiful part of the
That being said, Plack and his wife, who continues to work in administration at Pelican Bay State Prison, plan to stay in Del Norte County. He will be teaching a criminal justice class for College of Redwoods-Del Norte in August and will continue to teach for CR's police academy in Eureka.
"I really enjoy relating a lot of my experience to the younger generation," Plack said. "I got into law enforcement because I have a passion for it - I could do another 40 years."
If you would like to sit down with Chief Plack while he is still on the job, he will continue to hold "Chatting with the Chief," an informal discussion opportunity for the community to talk with Plack at Tomasini's Enoteca on Wednesdays at 3 p.m, the Saturday Del Norte County Farmers Market and from 8:40 a.m. to 9 a.m. on KPOD, 97.9 FM.
Reach Adam Spencer firstname.lastname@example.org.