Vargas: Conley was a ‘CSI guy’ before TV made it popular

By Joe Vargas

On Saturday, I attended the memorial service for Anaheim Police Department Forensics Supervisor Jim Conley. He passed away from a massive heart attack just 11 months after retiring.

Sadly, I have been writing a lot lately about police officials who have passed away.

Jim was an Anaheim police officer from 1973 until 1994. In 1994, he assumed the position of forensics supervisor where he stayed until December of 2013.

Jim was a CSI guy long before television made CSI popular. Jim worked 43 years for the City of Anaheim, having started in 1971 as a young police cadet. Like many in law enforcement, he didn’t have much chance to enjoy his retirement years.

Jim’s attention to detail and professionalism put a lot of bad guys in jail. The streets are a much safer place because of the work Jim did. From analyzing a blood stained heel print to a fingerprint on a toilet seat, the work of his unit was critical in putting evil people behind bars.

Jim was lucky to have found a job that became his calling. He lived and breathed forensics. He championed and led the police department’s transition to digital fingerprinting, making Anaheim one of the leaders in what would later become the standard.

Jim was also an expert in the art of analyzing blood spatter. Just from the way blood drops fell he could tell exactly where the victim was struck and from what angle.

Like many people who find their calling in their vocation Jim was obsessive about what he did. It was a part of every conversation and encompassed his whole identity. He was not just good at what he did.

He was amazing.

This passion and energy doesn’t come without costs. Jim’s closest family can attest to that. Having to share your loved one always has its price.

Jim was a member of the department my entire career there. I worked with Jim when I served as captain of the Investigations Bureau. His bullheaded championing for the forensics detail kept it intact during the worst of the recession years.

At his memorial service, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” Many members of the police department, past and present, attended the ceremony. We shared memories of Jim and later toasted him.

In closing, Police Chaplain Brian Crow said something that rang true: “Anaheim was Jim’s life. The sad part is most of Anaheim will never know that. But Anaheim is a better place because of it.”

So it is for most who serve in the law enforcement profession.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com