Cal Poly University Police Department (UPD) officer Jason LeClair knew he was going to be a policeman. Despite the fact that no one in his family was involved with law enforcement, it became his passion from an early age.
“I’ve always wanted to be in law enforcement, since I was a little kid,” he said.
While working at Nordstrom in Riverside, he had the chance to pursue his dream. He borrowed money from his parents to attend the Golden West police academy in Huntington Beach, Calif.
From there, LeClair was hired in Atascadero, where he worked for six years. Now he is at Cal Poly, working with 17 other sworn police officers, “protecting our future,” as the precinct motto states.
LeClair will work one of three 10-hour shifts at the department on any given day. He spends the majority of the shift cruising in a Ford Crown Victoria police car. The UPD fleet, which includes one new vehicle this year, has radar built into the cars, a front facing camera, a radio connected with other units and the dispatcher, as well as other tools that help the officers do their job.
“I don’t really have a preset route or preset destination,” LeClair said of his patrols. “It’s just wherever the car takes me.”
He said though UPD has jurisdiction up to one mile off campus on patrols, he will typically stay where students are. That could mean driving near the residence halls and Poly Canyon Village apartments during the day, or venturing out into the areas surrounding Hathway Avenue at night.
“The school is very interested in what the students are doing off-campus,” LeClair said. “They want to make sure everyone is acting responsibly.”
LeClair said he will sometimes go further off campus at night, since that’s where the students are going.
He said although some agencies might have a preconceived bias against a university police department, UPD works closely with San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD). SLOPD Captain Chris Staley said his department is very supportive of working with UPD.
“We assist them, and they assist us,” Staley said. “It’s one of those relationships where we communicate all the time.”
Responding to calls or making citizen contact (speaking with a citizen) makes up the majority of an officer’s duty when he or she is patrolling.
While driving around, LeClair simultaneously scans the area for possible issues and listens to other officers radio for calls to action, as well as general updates.
“I always try to listen in whenever my partner’s saying something, so if there’s a shooting with him, I can just put on a code three (lights and siren) and get over to him quick,” LeClair said without a hint of exaggeration. In his four years in San Luis Obispo, there have been no shootings at Cal Poly.
LeClair said his most intense moment at the university was three years ago, when he responded to a call in a Poly Canyon Village apartment of an unresponsive student.
“I was used to doing (those kind of calls) where I used to work,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we don’t get very many of those calls.’”
When LeClair arrived, the student was not breathing and had no pulse. He performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but it failed: The student died. LeClair would later find out it was caused by a rare blood disease in the student, and there was nothing LeClair could have done to help.
Still, he said those kind of situations never get any easier.
“You have to remember when you’re doing stuff like that, that it is a profession,” he said. “You can’t take it personally. There’s some officers who can’t do that, and a lot of them will commit suicide over that.”
LeClair said he really does try to separate his work as an officer from his personal life.
“There’s some guys — not here, but nationally — who are always a cop,” LeClair said. “They go home, and they treat their families like suspects. They’ll see a guy speeding, and notice it right away.”
When he goes home to his family, consisting of his wife, a junior high-aged son and Cuesta Community College freshman daughter, LeClair leaves all his work supplies on campus. It’s important, he said, to realize it’s just a job, and separate it from his home life. He even makes a conscious effort to make friends who are not in law enforcement, he said.
“It’s important for anybody in any career to have that balance,” UPD Commander Lori Hashim said. “If you put too much into work, it just makes you an unhealthy person.”
Hashim said LeClair is a well-liked officer among the students, and that this balance helps him.
“He’s a good cop, he’s a good guy,” she said. “He’s enthusiastic, and treats people fairly. We does a good job. We got a lot of good feedback about him.”
LeClair said he puts 100 percent of his effort into his job. As he is patrolling, his eyes are constantly scanning for anything out of the ordinary. Oftentimes, it won’t be difficult to spot.
This was the case Tuesday afternoon. Just over an hour before his day shift was over, LeClair was pulling out of the UPD station on Perimeter Road. As he turned right, west onto Perimeter, he said he spotted a bicyclist speeding through the stop sign directly in front of the station. He turned on his lights and sirens, and signaled for the bicyclist to pull over.
“What’s going on, officer?” the pedestrian said.
“You just ran through that stop sign right there,” he replied. “Have you ever been to one of our bicycle diversion programs?”
“No, I haven’t,” said the pedestrian.
That’s how LeClair always starts off his contact with bicyclists when he’s pulling them over for a citation. UPD offers a $35 bicyclist safety class for first-time offenders that can replace the $140 traffic ticket. LeClair tries to keep the conversation with the alleged offenders short, since most of them will end up doing the bicycle diversion program and learn more about traffic safety there.
Most of an officer’s work during a typical day shift will be traffic stops, as well as fire alarms. Many of the fire alarm calls on campus will come from the Poly Canyon Village Apartments. It might not be the most exciting work in the world, but LeClair said he definitely prefers Cal Poly to his old station in Atascadero.
“For one, San Luis Obispo is much nicer than Atascadero,” he said. “And students are extremely respectful. There are never really any problems with students being disrespectful, other than highly intoxicated students.”