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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Cathedral City Police Chief Travis Walker stood tall—he’s 6 foot 4, after all—in December when he dedicated the Fallen Police Officer Memorial next to the police department building.

Among the speakers honoring the ultimate sacrifice by Officers David Vasquez and Jermaine Gibson—who lost their lives in 1988 and 2011, respectively—was Rep. Raul Ruiz. He was joined by representatives of other nearby law-enforcement agencies.

Walker unveiled the memorial along with the officers’ families. “We pray we’ll never have to add any new names to this memorial,” he said.

The memorial’s unveiling was the latest event in a busy first year as police chief for Walker, an accomplished law-enforcement veteran with 23 years in service—including a stint as the tactical commander during the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino.

During a recent interview with Chief Walker, we discussed topics ranging from the city’s recent removal of red-light cameras to his favorite basketball player, Magic Johnson.

“Magic was the best team player ever,” Walker said. “The game was not about him, but the team.”

Walker—the first black police chief in Cathedral City—said recent data shows the city has not been the site of any hate crimes since 2012.

“This is a very tolerant community for as diverse it is,” he said “… People may feel that there was a hate crime, but there are specific criteria that define truly what a hate crime is.”

Walker joined the Cathedral City Police Department as deputy police chief in 2016.

“I led a very blessed career that prepared me for making some decisions that you have to make from this office,” he said. “As law enforcement pros, we spend our careers preparing for different positions.”

One of the most buzzed-about ideas Walker implemented in his first year is the “police cab”—a decommissioned police cruiser painted as a half-police car, half-taxi cab that can be found on the streets of Cathedral City, sometimes parked in front of prominent local bars.

“We’re trying to give that final message. No matter how drunk you are, you still recognize the police car, and on the side of it is a statement: Chose your ride! Think before you drink!” Walker said. “You can get an Uber drive home for $10 to $15, or you can pick up a DUI that can cost $10,000 to $15,000!

“Sadly, the DUI drivers often don’t kill themselves; they kill innocent people.”

Walker said he’s proud of the fact that the city’s done so well at discouraging accidents that it did not receive extra grant money for DUI checkpoints this year.

“We did an effective job and work very hard, and we have reduced our traffic fatalities, so the funding is converted to another community,” he said.

That does not mean, however, that people are no longer driving drunk.

“No matter how much education you put out there about DUI … it’s still a struggle here in the community, and you still have drivers crashing under the influence,” Walker said.

Walker said he recommended the removal of the notorious and controversial red-light cameras that had been at three of Cathedral City’s busiest intersections

“I had motor officers who were sitting down and reviewing hundreds of images. For me, that’s not a good use of an officer’s time,” he said. “There is more going on throughout the city than at those intersections, and it was my recommendation to the City Council to remove the cameras—and we removed them.”

While Cathedral City has a reputation for gang violence, Walker said the city of 54,000—with a police force of 52 sworn officers—is heading in the right direction.

“Public safety has been a priority for the City Council and the city manager in recent years,” he said. “Year to date, we are already at (crime being) 10 percent down from last year.”

When I mentioned the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack, Walker said good training helped the police do their jobs. Sixteen people (including the two perpetrators) were killed, and 24 were injured in the mass shooting and attempted bombing.

“Dec. 2, 2015, was a tragic day that I wish had never happened … and I don’t think that day defines who I am today,” Walker said. “What made a difference that day was that I had good people who worked for me, and the training we received in dealing with an active shooter.”

Walker is a big believer in community engagement, including the use of social media.

“I’m big on marketing the work that the men and women of this organization do,” he said. “If you have a Twitter account or a Facebook account or an Instagram account, you can see that we’re very active, and we’re very engaged with the community. Social media … allows us to tell the story of the Cathedral City Police Department.”

Walker said it’s important the police department touts the positive—because it’s the negative that receives the vast majority of attention.

“There are many positive, comical, heartwarming stories that are not reported publicly—hence the department’s social media campaign,” he said. “… My Twitter feed (@CCPDWALKER) is my own feed; my Facebook (CCPDChiefWalker) and my Instagram (ccpdchiefwalker) are my own, but I have a staffer that does the social media for the department. It’s a sergeant, who as a part of his duty puts the department’s pics and stories out there on social media. He’s extremely engaging, extremely funny and extremely clever.”

Published in Local Issues

On this week's utterly baffled weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson shakes her head at all of the recent shootings; The K Chronicles looks at how the sausage is made in America; This Modern World bemoans the end of humanity; and Red Meat gets ready for Halloween eggings.

Published in Comics

With the trauma of the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino fresh in their minds, Simon Moore—the lead adviser of the Coachella Valley High School Health Academy and Health Occupation Students of America—and his students began planning a community outreach program.

Kimberly Bravo, a senior at the Thermal high school and the captain of the CVHS HOSA community awareness team, noted in a news release announcing the forum that mass shootings have taken countless innocent lives.

“Later, we find out that the people committing these shootings suffer (or suffered) from various types of mental health issues. The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Why didn’t anyone hear these individuals’ cries for help?’” she said.

At the forum, Bravo, her fellow students and the members of the public who attended learned that the premise of the forum was flawed: Most people who carry out mass shootings don’t make cries for help—because they aren’t mentally ill.

“Not all of these shootings are based on mental illness,” said Desert Hot Springs Chief of Police Dale Mondary, one of the panel participants, who worked in San Bernardino before taking his newish job in the desert. “I’d say the majority probably are not. It could be political causes, or religious ideology or some sort of family-relationship issue.”

The fairly well-attended forum attracted a distinguished group of prominent local and national professionals and politicians, all with their own perspectives on the theme.

“Everyone who we invited showed up—and, I mean, that’s just amazing,” Moore said after the forum. “We asked Dale Mondary, the chief of police from Desert Hot Springs, because he’s a new guy to the area who came from San Bernardino. State Representative Chad Mayes, who is a Republican, just showed up and said, ‘Let’s talk.’ And we’re not even in his district. Also we got Supervisory Special Agent Colin Schmitt from the FBI (who was lead incident commander during command post operation for investigating the San Bernardino shootings). And given the acclaim that attendee Dr. James Fox receives among law enforcement as a profiler in the U.S., it was really cool to get him.”

Fox (pictured below) is a professor and interim director at the School of Criminology at Northeastern University who has appeared on numerous television shows, writes a regular column in USA Today and has been called on for his expert opinions by the U.S. Congress, several attorneys general, President Bill Clinton and Princess Anne of Great Britain, among others.

The panel covered numerous topics over the course of the discussion, which lasted more than 90 minutes—and the hard link between mental illness and mass shootings was not the only myth debunked at the forum.

“There’s one tiny flaw in all the theories as to why there’s been an increase in mass shootings in the United States, and that is the fact that there has not been an increase in mass shootings over the past several decades,” Fox said. “Now, I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering of all those who have been victimized in these attacks. But the facts say clearly that there has been no epidemic.”

He offered an array of statistics to support this stance.

That position not withstanding, student co-moderator Sergio Ortega asked, “With the growing number of mass shootings in public spaces, what do you think is the root cause of these incidents?”

“In the cases of shootings in public places which are the rarest, maybe 5 or 6 a year,” Dr. Fox said, “they are the ones where mental illness is most likely to emerge. These individuals have a paranoid sense that the whole world is evil or the government is corrupt, and they really don’t care who they kill as long as they kill as many people as possible.”

Schmitt mentioned that shooters often put a lot of thought into where they make their attack.

“Between 2000 and 2013, there were 160 active shooter instances, and 46 percent of them took place in areas that were open to pedestrian traffic. Obviously, it’s unlikely that we’d have an incident like this at an FBI building which is full of armed agents. If somebody is looking to kill lots of people, they are going to go somewhere where there is not a lot of law enforcement.”

After the forum, we asked Moore if he was surprised by the expert opinions that seemed to undermine the basic premise behind the forum.

“No. They knew the discussion was about violence in relation to mental health,” he said. “Dr. Fox’s finding is that most of those shooters are not mentally ill. He told us that among people who commit mass shootings, less than 12 percent have had mental health issues. And Chief Mondary has a specialty of combating crime rather than profiling. I think it was great that they both spoke from their experience with the public.”

So what’s next for the students who were involved in this public-awareness exercise?

“Now it’s time to get the word out,” Moore stated. “When we had a debriefing with the student organizers, I asked if most people who carry out mass shootings have mental health issues, and everyone in the room said, ‘No.’”

Published in Local Issues

I admit I’m feeling unnerved.

The terrorist attack in San Bernardino followed seemingly unrelated events including the shooting of Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, and the murder of three people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Then came the fire-bombing at the mosque in Coachella, and the death of my old friend George Zander after the gay-bashing he and his husband, Chris, suffered in downtown Palm Springs. (As of this writing, it is not yet clear whether Zander’s death was directly related to that assault.)

Coincidentally, I recently ran out of new books on my nightstand, and began re-reading two old favorites: 1984 and Brave New World. They are both incredible novels—but reading them at the same time is perhaps an unnecessary punishment at a time when our own country’s future seems to be so precariously hanging on the next presidential election.

George Orwell’s 1984 is set in a world of never-ending war, invasive government surveillance, the manipulation of history, tyranny dominated by the presence of Big Brother, and the control of society by a privileged class via a party motivated purely by power. The book was published in 1949, after World War II, and uses the destruction of London as its physical backdrop (not unlike the devastation depicted in Mad Max or Clockwork Orange). It also envisions a society in which citizens are controlled through fear and intimidation.

Orwell introduced concepts we use today. When things are described as “Orwellian,” we mean they go too far in manipulating or depriving the population of the basic necessities of life. The concept of Big Brother became a reality television show on which a group of people live together, isolated from the outside world—and always under the watchful eye of the television camera. “Doublespeak” and “groupthink” came straight from Orwell’s frightening vision of a totalitarian future in which children spy on their parents, and the ultimate punishment for independent thinking is to be confronted by the thing that frightens one most. Anyone who has ever read 1984 cannot possibly forget Winston Smith and the rats.

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, casts the future as a perpetually happy utopia in which people live in a clean, efficient, technically advanced society, without traditional marriage or family—embryos are artificially manufactured with restricted abilities and ambitions. Class distinctions are fully accepted based on sleep-programmed education from infancy, and the size of the population is strictly controlled so each class can be provided with everything it needs. A drug keeps the population docile, and those few who dare to see themselves as individuals are banished to uninhabitable parts of the globe. Individuality is discouraged, and society is run as a benevolent dictatorship.

How do these two books relate to my being upset about the beating of the Zanders and the bombing of the mosque? These two local crimes seem motivated by individuals willing to use violence based on their individual visceral opposition to gays or Muslims; a recent study by Nathan Kalmoe, a University of Michigan doctoral candidate, articulated a broader explanation of the willingness of individuals to use violence for political gain.

At a time when the leading candidate of one of our two dominant political parties is shamelessly using demagoguery—attempting to gain power by arousing the emotions and prejudices of others—to play to the fears of Americans in exchange for political support, it is no surprise that Kalmoe found that combative and even violent political rhetoric can make some Americans see violence as an appropriate means to an end.

“The rhetoric of ‘fighting’ for a cause, declaring ‘war’ on problems, and suffering ‘attacks’ from opponents, is how political leaders, journalists and citizens often talk about politics,” says Kalmoe. “Political leaders, pundits and citizens regularly demonize opponents and emphasize the righteousness of their own goals. Language like that may facilitate moral disengagement, which allows people to rationalize the harm they do to others.”

To be fair, most people in the study opposed violence, but a significant minority, ranging from 5 to 14 percent, agreed with the use of violent options, while between 10 and 18 percent were indifferent. That means millions of ordinary Americans accept the general idea of violence to gain political ends. Not surprisingly, Kalmoe found that young adults are more prone to adopt violent attitudes after exposure to such language—possibly explaining the appeal of groups like ISIS and domestic militias that seem to offer a way for disaffected young people to act and not just feel powerless.

Both Brave New World and 1984 are cautionary tales, and each depicted a future that has not come to pass. But we do have elements of each: surveillance; calls for a greater invasion of privacy, even of citizens; the manipulation of language to mean something other than what it means (in 1984, the three central principals are “War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength”); conformity in the name of assimilation; the use of drugs to minimize distress; turning on each other in the name of security (“If you see something, say something”); and class consciousness.

More than 25 years after Brave New World, Huxley wrote a nonfiction work, Brave New World Revisited, in which he considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision. According to Wikipedia, Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like the future he had envisioned much faster than he originally thought it would.

My conclusion, after San Bernardino, the attack on the Zanders, and the Coachella mosque is that we are much closer to 1984 and Orwell’s prediction that fear would be the ultimate motivator of political power.

If we are to retain our values and head toward a more optimistic future—one in which our religious houses of worship and the Zanders of our world are secure—we need to recognize that casting every conflict in apocalyptic language and falling for demagogic rhetoric must be rejected.

If you think your vote doesn’t count, think again—while you still can.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's more-somber-than-normal Independent comics page: In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, This Modern World and Jen Sorenson sigh at the endless cycle of gun violence and inaction, while The K Chronicles celebrates some of life's little holiday-time victories, and Red Meat deals with frustration over the scourge of man boobs.

Published in Comics