Vargas: Fact that Golden Gate Killer was former cop is not lost on police officers

By Joe Vargas

After nearly four decades on the run, the Golden State Killer/East Bay Rapist/Original Nightstalker/Diamond Knot Killer and possibly Visalia Ransacker was finally arrested.

Joseph DeAngelo was identified through DNA evidence as the suspect detectives had long sought.

This was a great achievement for law enforcement and a tribute to the hundreds of officers who kept the case alive over the years.

As Larry Poole, one of the detectives who worked the case, said during a recent Behind the Badge interview, “a new phase has begun.” The hard work of prosecuting the case will involve hundreds of hours of case preparation and evidence gathering.

As a retired police officer, it’s disappointing to hear DeAngelo is a former police officer and was a police officer for the cities of Auburn and Exeter when some of the crimes were committed.

In an interview with Fox 40 News in Sacramentoretired Auburn Chief Nick Willick said, “I feel personally embarrassed… It’s a black eye not just on my department but law enforcement.”

Willick fired DeAngelo after he was arrested for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.

It’s a big blow to everyone who wears a badge and serves with honor when a fellow police officer crosses the line. Especially in this case, given the sheer number of crimes and their heinous nature. DeAngelo is suspected in 12 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries.

There is a sense of betrayal to the profession, to police comrades, and to the public when someone who is called to uphold justice and do the right thing instead chooses to become a criminal themselves.

Toward the end of my own career, my department arrested one of its own for sexually assaulting a female motorist he had stopped. The evidence was overwhelming, and there wasn’t an officer in the department who didn’t want to see him get at least double the time prescribed by law. Personally, I wouldn’t have had a problem with that.

We felt a sense of justice when he was handcuffed and taken to jail by members of his own department. That day, he was just another bad guy going to jail.

I know there are cynics who believe police officers cover for each other and that there is a code of silence that allows rouge cops to victimize people. But that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve known thousands of police officers from working alongside them day to day and in training. During that time, I have seen cops arrested and prosecuted for everything from sex offenses, to DUI, to narcotics offenses, and in one case, even murder.

I’ve known the satisfaction felt from a job well done when criminals are brought to justice — even when the criminals are cops.

A 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice found that about a thousand police officers are arrested every year. The number may seem high until you take into account there are nearly 1 million law enforcement officers in the United States.

For the public at large, the arrest rate is 3,888 per 100,000 people. For police officers, its 1.7 per 100,000. That is pretty significant. Yet even the arrest of one officer is too much.

Maintaining public trust and organizational integrity requires exemplary behavior on the part of police officers. The goal, while noble, is difficult to achieve when you hire from the human race and requires vigilance, discipline, and an organizational culture that constantly reinforces the fact that the badge is a badge of honor — an honor never to be taken lightly.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.