Around Pleasanton: Police captain talks about recruitment efforts, 21st century leadership


In long, glowing remarks at last week's meeting of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, Pleasanton Police Chief Dave Spiller introduced Larry Cox, a 22-year police veteran who currently heads Spiller's investigations unit. who was the luncheon speaker.

"When it comes to talking about Larry Cox," Spiller said, "three things will be apparent: family, team and leadership. He can talk about leading law enforcement in the 21st century."

Spiller continued, "Since 2001, Larry has made a significant impression in the department from a leadership commitment to being on the line to positions of authority, and he continues to rise in the organization."

Spiller added that Cox has held a variety of assignments in Pleasanton, including patrol and field training officer, detective, personnel and training officer, and force options instructor specializing in firearms, defensive tactics and active shooter instruction. Just last month, he returned from a lengthy deployment to the FBI's training academy at Quantico, Va.

He said that Cox, born in Portland, Maine, moved to Tracy at a young age, graduated from Tracy High School and married his "high school sweetheart" before deciding on a law enforcement career and earning bachelor's and master's degrees in public administration.

"Wow!" Cox said, acknowledging Spiller's comments as he took the lectern to talk about the challenges he sees facing police in general and the Pleasanton department specifically.

"Let me add to the chief's introduction," Cox said. "Yes, I did get married right of high school at age 18. Of our three children, one is now a Livermore police officer, another's in college and a third, our youngest who just turned 18, will join the Army when he graduates from high school."

"So, at the age of 44, we're about to become empty-nesters" he added, to the cheers of the envious Rotarians.

Cox said that in his last 22 years in police work, he's seen many changes that have affected law enforcement. These include the use of computers in police stations to now having them in patrol cars, body-worn cameras, ever-changing policing policies and cultural changes in the community. While technology has enhanced and improved the profession, it also comes with challenges.

"Today, police are more engaged with the community we serve, participate in more community meetings, with our operations becoming more transparent," Cox said. "In Pleasanton, especially, we are fortunate to have a community and police department that worked together for as many years as we have, building a strong relationship."

Even so, Cox said the Pleasanton Police Department faces an ongoing recruitment challenge.

While historically, there would be far more applicants than positions to fill, that has changed. Few of those who might make good cops apply when an opening occurs. Police work that once was seen as a prestigious, positive, well-respected career is no longer viewed in those terms.

Nationally, often because of confrontational-focused media reports, the profession appears to be too dangerous, somewhat corrupt and certainly less glamorous.

In reality, he countered, police work is more routine, investigative, community-focused and personally rewarding.

Another deterrent to becoming a cop is an application process, including backgrounds checks, that can take up to a year, longer than many qualified applicants can wait.

"While we need to make sure candidates are qualified, we need to change the process to speed it up," Cox said.

Cox and his colleagues have created a 30-member task force of recruiters who go to military bases, college campuses and job fairs. They even drive a Pleasanton police van emblazoned with the words "We're hiring" to law enforcement meetings in other cities.

Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns typically run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.

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