By all accounts, Pasadena Police Officer Elgin Lee is nice.
Maybe even, super nice.
He’s a former Eagle Scout, a trained medic and he has spent the last 12 years focusing his police work on tackling mental health and homelessness in Pasadena.
But one day a week, Lee, 39, hangs up his Mr. Congeniality merit badge to become a Training, Advising and Counseling (TAC) officer at Rio Hondo Academy. Here cadets learn how to become police officers, but they also learn that in the real world – not everyone is nice.
“No one believes me when I tell them I am also a TAC officer, “said Lee. “I’m the nicest guy in the world, but when I’m training it is my job to introduce a level of stress these trainees have never experienced before.”
At the Academy, Officer Lee is consistently rated “the meanest instructor” by students. He’s the guy who gets in cadets faces, yells at them for a wrinkled collar, yells at them for being late, talking, not following directions and is even the guy who slides directly underneath them during push ups to ensure they keep going.
“As a police officer you have to think on your feet, when you are presented with a problem and are in danger, you have to come up with a solution and if you don’t …. I will yell at you for that,” said Lee.
Officer Lee has been a TAC training officer at Rio Hondo Academy since 2018, training cadets and also working with youth from Pasadena Police Department’s Jr. Public Safety Academy (kids ages 11-17) who spend a week learning about law enforcement.
The ever-eternal Boy Scout, who loves helping people and being a part of positive change, was once on the career track for becoming a doctor. He was studying biology at California State University Los Angeles, but found that he missed the sense of service that came with his years as a scout. He decided to become a reserve police officer, while he continued his studies in college.
After 6 months of service as a reserve, Lee couldn’t deny that becoming a police officer was what he wanted to do with his life. He finished up his studies and then went to the Academy where he came face to face with the TAC officer who trained him and who made him question if he had what it took to become a police officer.
“It was stressful. There were many nights that I questioned what I was doing and if this was the right choice for me,” said Lee. “But that’s their job. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice yourself for the job. I did.”
Lee graduated and has been a police officer for the last 12 years using his degree in biology to work with Pasadena’s homeless and assisting them with their mental health issues. He’s a trained medic and can aid with gun wounds while out on the field.
Lee’s compassion, listening skills and role on the City’s HOPE (Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation Team) is what he is known for at Pasadena Police Department. But his move into becoming a TAC officer, even surprised retired Sergeant Clyde Ito, who was a mentor to Lee.
“Elgin was one of the best officers on our HOPE team. It takes a certain kind of officer to do that job because you’re almost like a social worker,” said Ito. “So, when he told me he was going to be a TAC officer, I was surprised because to be a successful TAC officer you really have to crank it up and turn on the switch on the opposite end. But, he’s doing a great job on the two extreme ends.”
On a Monday morning, the weekend after academy training, Officer Lee’s voice is raspy from yelling at cadets for 11 hours. He may have made a few cry and there was no sign of niceness from the moment he pulled his car into the Rio Hondo Academy parking lot at 9 a.m. until he left at 11 p.m. that night.
“Sometimes I feel bad when I have to be Mr. Mean, but then I remember we are preparing them for their careers in law enforcement. Yelling introduces stress and stress is critical thinking at its finest. This can save their lives.”