HomeBlocksFront-TopChief Incontro Teaches ‘Cop Class’

Chief Incontro Teaches ‘Cop Class’

These days, the presence of a police officer on a high school campus might induce a feeling of dread, but such was not the case last Wednesday. San Marino Police Chief John Incontro was not at San Marino High School to follow up on an investigation, launch a drug dog on a locker search or even bring lunch to his daughter, who is a freshman at SMHS. Instead, Incontro was there to address members of the school’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class.

Incontro began his presentation by telling the students that he actually wanted to be a teacher himself. But a job glut caused Incontro to look elsewhere for employment.

“I liked a couple of cop shows that were on television,” he said. “I thought ‘that looks pretty cool. You get to help people and be outside a lot.’”

Incontro began his law enforcement career in Glendale before moving in 1979 to the Los Angeles Police Department, where he spent the next 36 years.

Though he worked “all over the city,” Incontro much of his time training future cops, which often numbered up to 20,000 per year.

In 2014, Incontro saw a job posting: Chief of Police, San Marino, California.

“I had lived in San Gabriel and knew the area very well, so when the job popped up I thought I would apply,” Incontro said. “I got it and I’m very happy here. We have relatively no violent crime in San Marino. Back in Rampart [District in Los Angeles], we once had 10 murders in a single weekend.”

Incontro said that during his career as a police officer he has seen or investigated 850 to 900 murders, as well as suicides and traffic accidents.

“I have reached my limit on violent crimes,” he said. “I worry about people’s safety.”

The room became silent when Incontro said he has never fired his gun during his 43 years as a police officer.

“Have I used force? Hell, yeah,” he said.

Incontro then asked a student to help him demonstrate acceptable forms of restraint as the students moved to the edge of their seats.

Incontro then went through a litany of events that he has confronted as a police officer, including the Rodney King beating and resulting riots, the Rampart scandal and, more recently, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“He was murdered by that police officer,” Incontro declared.

“I am happy that we are looking at racism in medical care, racism in education,” he said. “There is racism everywhere. George Floyd. Was it racist? I don’t know. But it sure looked like it.”

Police Chief John Incontro shows students the proper method of restraint, using volunteer Evan Kuo.

Incontro was asked by a student if the SMPD requires video cameras on officers’ bodies, as many departments do.

“I want them,” he said. “Any time an officer uses excessive force it is a big issue. It takes away our trust with the community.”

Before moving on from that subject, Incontro said that statistically just 1% of all police calls end up with the use of excessive force.

As teacher Peter Paccone counted down to the closing bell, Incontro offered a “career day” segment to his presentation.

“The best thing about our job is that we truly love what we do and love working in San Marino,” Incontro said, as he nodded toward new SMPD officer Josephine Heredia, who had accompanied the chief to the high school. “I love being a cop and I love having an influence in making change. If you can find a career where every single day you want to go to work, stick with it. If not, find something else.”

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