He’s been on the SWAT team, the gang detail, a DARE officer and has worked undercover. He policed the Rodney King riots, the Laguna Beach fire, high-speed pursuits and drug busts.
But ask Cpl. John “JD” DeCaprio, whose 28-year career will come to an end in December, and he’ll tell his most recent assignment was one of his most rewarding – creating and leading The Fullerton Police Department Homeless Task Force.
“I started to run into people and get to know them on a personal basis and realize that a lot of these folks were in need of help and were in need of services,” he said.
Over the past few years, DeCaprio has helped hundreds of people get off the streets and turn their lives around.
“We choose this career path because we want to make a difference,” said Police Chief Dan Hughes. “JD made a difference in the lives of thousands of residents.”
DeCaprio credits his partnership with Marie Avena, founder of Coast to Coast, and the Orange County Mental Health Agency, for the city’s success in helping so many homeless people.
“I thought this was too good to be true,” he said, referring to Coast to Coast’s efforts to coordinate volunteers, bus rides, blankets and other services. “Nobody had ever knocked on the door and said, ‘I’m here to help.’”
DeCaprio grew up in Westminster and graduated from Westminster High. After that, he attended Golden West College to get his AA in criminal justice, then transferred to CSULB and got his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He also attended the Orange County Sheriff Academy when he hired on in Fullerton in 1986.
Two years into the job, the department asked him to teach the DARE program.
That assignment has created lifelong friendships.
“My DARE kids now are 37 years old, give or take a few,” he said.
One former student is Norma Galvan Bizzell. She met DeCaprio when she was a 9-year-old at Golden Hill Elementary.
“A lot of people think just because you wear a badge you don’t have a heart,” Bizzell said. “He gives people the opportunity to know him on a personal level, but he’s always very ethical.”
DeCaprio said police officers like him are interacting with people daily. He said whether someone is a criminal, homeless or a gang member, he always works to understand where they come from.
“That’s the way I’ve always done things,” he said. “I have to understand who you are and why you are in the position you are in and why you think the way you do and how can I build that trust. You have to be real. You have to treat people like a human being. And I’ve always had that no matter what assignment I’m working.”
He said he loves Fullerton, the town he calls home and where he has raised his kids. He plans on volunteering in retirement.
“What I like to say is that I was somebody before I put this badge on and I’ll be somebody when I take it off,” he said.
After Dec. 29, he will spend more time with his wife, Yvonne, and their two boys, Ryan and Justin. He and his wife will continue to do volunteer work with the Coast to Coast Foundation, and he’s on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s been a very fulfilling career,” he said. “I don’t leave with a lot of hesitation. I’ll miss the people. But as far a life in law enforcement: I’ve done my time.”