YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollectionsOfficer

Calexico lieutenant drawn by diversity

March 21, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — While working for the Inyo County Sheriff's Department, James Lee Neujahr was awarded the county's medal of valor for saving the lives of two fellow deputy sheriffs during a hostage situation. He was commended by the state attorney general for his actions.

After his time as a deputy, Neujahr worked 11 years in the city of Bishop Police Department.

Bishop, population 12,000, is in the Owens Valley at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It's "trout country" near the border of Nevada. A woman at the Chamber of Commerce office said it is "beautiful country."

While in Bishop, Neujahr moved up steadily through the ranks, from patrol officer to bike patrol officer until he reached investigations and a plum assignment on the narcotics task force. While many would rest on their laurels, take up fishing and enjoy the scenery until retirement, Neujahr didn't.

He said he was "bored."


"I was looking for something different," he added.

In 1994, he packed up, took a $1,500 pay cut and headed to Calexico's Police Department. He's been here since.

It hasn't been boring, he'll tell you that much.

"Anything can happen," Neujahr agreed.

Calexico offered him all the things he wasn't getting in Bishop, he said. Specifically, he loves the area's diversity.

"It's not always the same thing all the time," he said.

Neujahr, 42, recently was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant. He was promoted along with then sergeant, now lieutenant Jill Tagendal (Tagendal will be profiled next week).

Together, Neujahr and Tagendal have been charged by new Chief Mario Sanchez and the City Council with bringing the department to full staffing.

Regarding Sanchez, Neujahr said having a local Calexican as chief has helped make his job easier. He said past chiefs — he didn't name names — ran into problems because they tried to "force their agendas down the community's throat."

Neujahr said, "Every chief comes in with his own agenda that is shaped by his personality. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. It depends on if those personal beliefs correspond to what the community wants."

Neujahr said Sanchez, in contrast, "has his finger on the pulse of the community. He's from the community. Right now, as hard as my job is, I'm fulfilled with it. We feel we're accomplishing something, providing a service to our community."

Asked how his years of experience have helped him succeed in Calexico, Neujahr said, "When I first came here people were going through the motions. I came in with experience and it was put to use right away."

Now, with eight years here and more than 20 overall under his belt in law enforcement, Neujahr is passing on his experience to younger officers.

"I try to mentor and develop on a one-on-one level," he said.

However, some Calexico officers have complained recently about the training they haven't been receiving.

Neujahr said, "Unfortunately for the past year and a half we have not sent anyone to training."

While Neujahr is still providing mentoring on a one-on-one basis, the departmental training has been lacking because the department has been so shortstaffed, he said.

"We've had three officers on a shift and those officers are getting beaten up out there answering calls," he said.

Things are starting to change.

On Monday the department will swear in two more local officers. These men are locals who the Police Department sent to the police academy in October.

Their presence will mean the department is only five officers short of full staffing. Months ago the department was short 13 officers.

It's been tough keeping officers here because many, including homegrown Calexican officers, have left the department for higher-paying jobs.

Neujahr said, "Of the past 10 local guys we've hired, three are still here."

As pay gets better, though, Neujahr said the department will retain more officers. He thanked the City Council for "giving us a package that did start to make us competitive."

He's hoping the department is fully staffed by April.

Some officers say Calexico police administrators have bad-mouthed officers when outside agencies or police departments call for reference checks. The officers contend the administration does this in order to keep officers here.

"The Calexico retention system," one cracked.

Neujahr said he has heard those complaints and they are not true.

"We give honest opinions based on work experience, work ethic and the productivity of that officer," he said.

That is unlike some departments which, he says, lie and tell a person calling how great a problem officer is to get rid of that officer.

Neujahr said if the accusations of blackballing were true, "How come we have all those leaving for other places?"

"People leave constantly," he added.

Just not Neujahr. He's sticking around.

He could be kicking back on a river bank, tying a fly and getting ready for the opening of trout season in Bishop.

But he'd miss all the excitement.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles