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Danville Police Aim to Rebuild Community Trust

A citizens police academy and community outreach are among the ways Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins aims to restore community trust in law enforcement after a recent scandal.

A criminal investigation spanning multiple East Bay cities has seeped into the quiet suburban communities of Danville and Alamo.

Residents have reacted with shock and disbelief in the past month as details emerged about the so-called "Dirty DUI" arrests that prosecutors say were organized by a Concord-based private investigator who tipped off police officers about drunk drivers in Danville, Concord and Clayton to dirty their reputations for divorce cases.

According to court records, one Danville officer, Stephen Tanabe of Alamo, was arrested in that case but hasn't been charged. He . Another Danville officer while the department investigates his involvement.

That story, along with on charges of stealing and selling drugs, was a wave of bad publicity for law-enforcement officers.

"I'm kind of shocked," said 17-year Danville resident Harry Biba. "I thought this was a pretty straight and clean community."

Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins pledges to restore residents' faith in the town's police force of 30 officers who work in Danville through a contract with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department.

Simpkins, a 17-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, delivered that message during a Town Council meeting earlier this month at which he presented the department's 2010 annual report a little more than a week after Tanabe's arrest.

"Our No. 1 focus for 2011 is rebuilding community trust," he told the council. "We will live up to that challenge."

Town Councilman Robert Storer told Patch he was disappointed when he heard about the Danville officer's arrest.

"We were all disappointed," said Storer. "But after speaking with Steve Simpkins and (Town Manager) Joe Calabrigo, I feel like they are handling it admirably. These are isolated incidents that should not be a reflection of our Police Department."

Simpkins said he has been working with his officers to engage in more community outreach in the face of the scandal.

"My message and direction to officers is that I know they are frustrated," said Simpkins, who , who was chief for seven years. "My hope is that over time, the community sees we haven't lost focus."

Part of that effort includes a Citizens Police Academy, which Simpkins hopes to have going by early summer. 

He said the program will give residents the chance to meet and ask questions of their police officers.

Another goal, he said, is to have greater transparency in the department and communication with residents. Last week, he posted a statement to residents on the Town website. It reads in part:

"The Danville Police Department is very proud to serve our residents. We pledge to be thorough and responsive to all calls for service. We are strongly committed to ensuring criminals do not prey on town residents."

According to an dated March 4, the officer who later was assigned out of Danville, Tom Henderson, said that in November he received a call from Tanabe, who said he was at in downtown Danville, and that a man he identified by name was drinking heavily and would be leaving soon.

Tanabe, according to the affidavit, explained to Henderson that the man was cheating on his wife and Tanabe and (Concord-based private investigator) Christopher Butler wanted to "dirty him up" for a future court case.

Last month, Town Manager Joe Calabrigo wrote about the incidents : "We are shocked and dismayed by these developments and the understandable concern that this could generate with our community. Though significantly different in their alleged involvement in any impropriety, both of the officers I've cited were immediately reassigned out of Danville and both will be subject to further investigation."

Mayor Karen Stepper told Danville Patch that the rapid removal of the two officers involved (Tanabe was put on administrative leave and then resigned) reflects the "kind of service" Danville residents have come to expect.

"There will be ramifications down the line, but we think we have taken care of it," she said. "What we have here is an example of how our department takes care of any situation immediately."

Paul Cowell, an 11-year Danville resident who has volunteered with the police for nine years, says residents ask him if the scandal will affect services in town.

"I know a lot of people in this community and most are supportive," said Cowell, one of 18 people in the Volunteers in Policing program who help control traffic at special events, educate residents about crime safety and help the department in other ways. "I know it's unfortunate and we just have to move forward."

Councilmember Storer agreed.

"Danville is held to a very high standard and Danville is considered a leader. I'm hoping the community feels we were very transparent about it," he said. "When things like this come up, we want to move forward and learn from it."

David Mills April 16, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Pete: Your comment has been deleted because it is making serious accusations against a named individual. If you would like to send me an email at david.mills@patch.com with more data, I can check out your accusations to make sure they are accurate. David Mills Patch.com associate regional editor

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