While retired cop Jim Voge was journeying from a long law enforcement career in Los Angeles to much-anticipated retirement in Cambria, his trek took a sudden swerve last year, plunging Voge back into police work — and to an unexpected turn as head investigator into the controversial use of pepper spray at UC Davis during an Occupy Davis demonstration.
The link to Cambria began for Voge as a wide-eyed Los Angeles teenager who visited unspoiled San Luis Obispo County with his parents. The youthful Voge put a dream in motion to relocate to the Central Coast one day.
On his honeymoon with wife Ramona in 1988, the newlyweds spent a night in Cambria and set their hearts on a piney retirement here. In subsequent years, the Voges made regular pilgrimages to Cambria from L.A.
In 2007, Jim retired after 34 years in law enforcement, including the last few years as a commander at LAPD. Ramona also retired from her position as LAPD chief records manager and the two began a housing search in Cambria.
The Voges bought a home in Cambria on Skye Street, keeping their Diamond Bar home as a “nest egg.” But about that time the housing market came crashing down and the Voges’ southern California home “… lost several hundred thousand dollars” in value. Around the time they were ready to move into a bigger home, the value of the Skye Street property also plummeted.
Also, Voge’s son Jimmy entered law school at Santa Clara and those expenses were mounting. A police-man’s dream of retirement in the pines was transitioning into a need to branch out into productive employment again.
About that time, San Luis Obispo Police Captain Ian Parkinson, campaigning for San Luis Obispo County sheriff — was publicly promising to reestablish an internal affairs department, which the previous sheriff had dissolved.
Voge, who was head of LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group when he retired, saw this opportunity as a potentially fortuitous dovetailing
for both parties — assuming, of course, that Parkinson was elected. Voge met with candidate Parkinson over lunch on several occasions, they had a meeting of the minds and, after the new sheriff was sworn in, Voge was offered the job he really
wanted and needed — leading the SLO County Sheriff’s Internal Affairs unit.
Why is an internal affairs unit essential to county citizens? “It’s really important, and it’s the law, that we investigate complaints and that we’re responsive to the public,” Voge explains. “What if you have a deputy who was discourteous to a citizen –that’s the most common complaint –how do you fix that unless you have a complaint process?”
Less than a year after Voge had settled into his position as Sheriff Commander for the county, a widely publicized pepper spray incident took place at UC Davis during the Occupy movement on that campus.
Within hours, the video of an officer shooting pepper spray directly into the faces of seated, peaceful demonstrators went viral on YouTube, and pressure mounted on the university
to open an investigation. As part of the effort, UC Davis called on William Bratton, CEO of Kroll & Associates, a high-powered private security firm, to conduct the public investigation into the pepper spray incident.
Bratton, a former LAPD chief, was Voge’s boss for several years, and had promoted Voge to position of commander in 2006.
“I got a call and was asked if I’d like to be the lead investigator for the pepper spray incident,” Voge recalls. “We were assigned to talk to everyone, from Occupy people, to students, to the Young Republicans group; the Young Republicans were the only ones who would let us interview them when we first got there.”
For fifteen days, Voge – along with four detectives he hired to help with the interviews –questioned UC Davis faculty and staff, demonstrators, students and officers who “weren’t targets” of the investigation. The occupy people “didn’t trust us” so they were reticent to provide testimony, Voge recalls.
While he is unable to reveal much about the results of the investigation today — “It went about as well as expected”—Voge did say that the emotion on campus was running high. “We had some students that felt the officers should have been arrested that night. Other students felt that if the officers had thrown a grenade in there, it would have been appropriate.”
Voge’s job was to gather the facts and report those to his superiors, which he did, and though he enjoyed the experience –“It gives you a lot of pride to
be asked to do this” — he’s glad to be back in Cambria, where he and his wife have served as docents for Friends of the Elephant Seals and as interpreters for the Friends of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
The cop who worked the 1984 LA Olympics, who was on duty when the Pope came to LA, who was there for the Rodney King riots, for the Democratic National Convention and for myriad crime investigations, is back doing what he loves to do— police work.
While retirement has been put on hold, Voge has set down roots in the community he dreamed about. And instead of fighting traffic on L.A. freeways after work, he zips home on Highway 1 to his comfy, quiet Bradford Circle home, where deer peek out of the heavily forested property nearby, quail scurry through the yard, and red-tailed hawks circle on the thermals high above.