Grand Marshal: Paul Cooper is taking a vacation
Paul Cooper was planning a vacation with his family to Texas when he got the phone call from the city’s Independence Day Committee, asking him to be the next grand marshal in the upcoming Fourth of July parade.
“They actually called me one night at home,” he said. “They said, ‘Hey, we wanted to know one, are you going to be in town? And two, you’ve been nominated and voted on by the committee to be the grand marshal.”
With that kind of honor, the former Claremont Police Chief couldn’t say no. He postponed the trip and accepted.
Mr. Cooper, who had been the police chief for 10 years before officially retiring last year, calls the distinction “a pretty big honor.”
“I was shocked, it usually doesn’t happen,” he said. “I think the committee told me in the history of the parade that the only other chief honored was Charlie Lines. I’m not sure there’s ever been a city employee besides he and I.”
Human Services Director Anne Turner, who noted that Keeping Good in the Neighborhood founder Betty Crocker nominated Mr. Cooper, said the former chief’s selection to helm the parade was a no-brainer.
“I think he really exemplifies a lot of the ideals of what we celebrate on the Fourth of July, and I’m thrilled he’s going to be grand marshal,” Ms. Turner said.
The Fourth has always been a big celebration in the City of Trees, which Mr. Cooper knows from personal experience. He calls the celebration an “unofficial homecoming” for Claremont, a way to reignite contact with old friends from 10 to 15 years ago.
“It’s a great time,” he said. “I look at the Fourth of July as kind of the community coming together.”
Even though he’s retired, Mr. Cooper hasn’t taken it too easy. He spends much of his time following his son, Cole, who plays baseball for Cal Baptist University in Riverside. He’s followed Cole, who plays catcher, up the coast to San Francisco, east to Colorado and south to San Diego, cheering him on as the team travels.
The former top cop also volunteers as a reserve officer in Claremont about 16 to 20 hours a month to offer a helping hand to the department he led for a decade. He can still take a black-and-white or a motorcycle out and help detectives in their work. “Whatever they want me to do,” he said.
Even after 32 years on the force, he still finds time to spend at the station.
“I’m doing what I started doing in law enforcement in the first place—going out, having a good time helping people,” he said.
Despite the fact that he still hangs around the station, Mr. Cooper doesn’t regret retiring. And the fact that he’s built such a rapport with many of his former officers definitely doesn’t hurt.
“Sometimes people say when they retire, they miss the work and miss the people, but I can see the people as frequently as I want,” he said. “And several of the employees have become good friends over the years, so I see them away from work and away from the station.”
But ultimately, the former chief decided to step aside not only because he knew his time had come, but also to give current Chief Shelly Vander Veen a chance at the top job.
“I knew that if I stuck around, there was no way that any consideration would be given to Shelly Vander Veen, so I wanted her to have the ability to at least compete against other potential applicants on the outside, because she was the only inside applicant,” he said.
“I wanted to leave the place in a better place than I found it, and I thought I did that,” he added. “Once that was accomplished, it was time to go.”
The current and former chiefs have the same rapport when he comes back to the station, although the dynamic has changed a little bit.
“It’s a role reversal; it’s funny,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll refer to her as ‘Boss’ and will walk over and ask ‘How’s it going, boss?’”
Mr. Cooper has been a part of Claremont for 44 years, attending Sycamore School, El Roble Intermediate and Claremont High before joining the CPD in 1985. He fondly remembers interacting with the police while hanging out at the legendary Orange Julius on Berkeley Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, which at the time was a popular hangout for Claremont teens.
One particular ride-along was with Officer Lionel Brown. What started as a regular shift turned into an electrifying car chase through the alleys around San Jose and Mountain Avenues.
To watch the former chief describe the chase is to watch someone deeply familiar with every side street and alleyway in Claremont.
“So [Officer Brown] started chasing these guys, and the speed started getting faster and faster, and by the time he came out onto that east alley, we were airborne,” Mr. Cooper remembers. “It turned out to be a stolen car.”
“It was pretty exciting for a 17-year-old,” he added.
From then on, he was hooked.
Mr. Cooper is familiar with how policing and, by extension, the public’s view of policing has changed over the years. He is still a champion of community-oriented policing, which has come to define how Claremont officers do their jobs. But community-oriented policing isn’t a program, he said, it’s a philosophy.
“It’s that interaction, that one-on-one with people when you drive down the street,” he said. Police aren’t the warriors, they are the guardians. They are guardians who protect their communities and people who come and go and live here.”
In the end, he hopes his time as chief is reflected in the people he helped bring to the department.
“The people are the legacy. The people you put into place and hire,” he said. “Over the years, I hope I’ve hired some of the best people and I hope our reputation says that. And I’ve promoted people I think represent the best interest of the community and the department.”