There was a time when Chuck Pierecy didn’t like cops.
If he saw one enter a restaurant, he’d move as far away from the officer as possible.
Now when that happens, Pierecy offers to buy the cop lunch.
His dramatic change in attitude didn’t happen overnight.
In fact, it happened over the course of 10 weeks when Pierecy attended the Fullerton Police Department’s Citizens Academy, a course designed to open communication between the community and law enforcement.
Pierecy, a 68-year-old retiree, completed the 30 hours of instruction and graduated from the Citizens Academy on Nov. 12, 2014.
“I realized, ‘Wow, these are some really dedicated guys and gals,” said Pierecy, who had several brushes with the law growing up in Wichita, Kansas. “These officers give so much.”
His attitude was a lot different in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Pierecy spent time in reform school.
“I was rebellious and mean, and did some stupid stuff,” he said. “And I grew up at a time when cops would act first and talk later.”
Pierecy once pinned the principal of West High School in Wichita between a desk and a brick wall.
That got him kicked out of the public school system.
“My father told me when I was a young man to leave Wichita or I was going to wind up in the prison system,” Pierecy said.
So he did, coming in Los Angeles when he was 17.
“I had 20 bucks in my pocket when I arrived on Skid Row on a Sunday at 9:30 p.m.,” he said. “By Monday morning, I had a job as a parking lot attendant.”
Pierecy went on to spend a successful 40-year career as director for the Western Region in the vehicle and shipping department for Best Foods/Bimbo Bakeries USA.
He retired in 2013.
For most of his adult life, Pierecy said he felt ambivalent about police officers.
“I felt nothing for or against them,” he said. “They were neutral to me. They just were.”
Things changed when a friend who volunteers for the Fullerton PD told Pierecy about the Citizens Academy.
As vice president and director of security for the homeowner association at his gated community in Fullerton, Pierecy figured he might learn something from the police.
“It sounded like a fit,” he said.
For three hours a week over the next 10 weeks, Pierecy learned from instructors from all levels of the department, from Police Chief Dan Hughes to dispatchers.
He participated in a couple of ride-alongs with patrol Officer Jesus Salazar. Pierecy gives a lot of credit to the six-year FPD veteran for changing his attitude about police officers.
“He (Salazar) gave off zero of that macho police stuff,” Pierecy said. “He made me feel like he was doing his job to help people. When Salazar approaches people he displays respect, speaks with a soft voice and his body language indicates no threat.”
The two bonded.
Soon, Pierecy, who has lived in Fullerton for more than 20 years and has five children from two marriages, was offering to buy Salazar lunch.
“I would tell him, ‘For what you do, you don’t make enough money, man,’” Pierecy said.
Salazar, who works graveyard shift patrolling the east side of Fullerton, said he learned a lot from Pierecy about business.
“They kind of relate,” Salazar said of business and law enforcement. “We both provide a service to the public, and we both have to follow rules and regulations.”
Salazar said ride-alongs provide a great opportunity for members of the public to see what cops and police work really is like.
“You come out with a different perspective when you see how our job really is to serve the public,” Salazar said.
Hughes was impressed with Pierecy’s speech at graduation ceremonies for the recent class of Citizens Academy participants.
“Charles is a great example of how the police can have a positive impact on those who do not necessarily always agree with us if we are willing to reach out to them and explain why we do what we do,” Hughes said.
“The Citizens Academy provides a forum that allows our department to learn just as much from Charles as he did from us,” Hughes added. “It was an honor to have him in our class and to really appreciate who he is as a person.”
Pierecy and Salazar still get together now and then for coffee.
Pierecy, not surprisingly, is the first to reach for the tab.
To learn more about the Fullerton Police Department Citizens Academy, contact Community Service Officer Juanita Juarez at 714-738-6836.