The Daily Press has launched a series of interviews with essential workers who are working bravely and diligently to keep the Santa Monica community functioning.
Jake Buryn is a community service officer in the Santa Monica Police Department, where he responds to and writes reports on crimes that are not in progress such as burglary, assault, car accidents, and domestic violence.
Jake worries about exposing his family to Covid through his work, but loves his job and using his social work background to support people in moments of crisis. He believes there is a need for police reform and thinks there should be more unarmed officers like him who are trained in social work.
What attracted you to this job?
I was looking to get out of Child Protective Services after spending five years there. I’ve always been a social worker at heart so it was hard for me to leave, but after my wife got pregnant and we were going to have our daughter I didn’t want to be involved in that work anymore. I don’t believe in carrying guns or putting people in handcuffs, so this was a position where I could respond to people when they’re having a crisis situation, but hopefully not have anybody shoot at me and not have to put people in jail.
How has your job changed due to COVID?
The biggest way our job changed is we try to do as many things over the phone as we can. We still have to go to car accidents and other types of crime reports in person, but the department provides N95 masks and we do everything we can to stay safe. It’s always been a dangerous job but during these COVID times it definitely feels even more dangerous.
Are you worried about exposure to COVID-19?
For me it’s a huge stressor and it’s an everyday stressor. I have a 10-year-old daughter and a wife and her parents live very close to us and we see them often. It’s something I’m highly worried about, but I still have to put food on my table. It’s interesting because at the department the people who are more liberal are much more concerned and cautious about Covid, and the people who are more conservative are not as concerned. I think the department is like our country as a whole: divided and falling on those political lines.
How did it feel working in the police department during the peaceful BLM protests and the looting Downtown?
There is a huge difference between peaceful protesters and violent criminals who loot. I think people have a right to protest and I think that it’s incredibly unfortunate that windows were smashed and property was stolen. I’m a believer in Black Lives Matter. I believe that diversity is what makes this country great and I wish we could embrace that instead of rejecting it.
I don’t believe in defunding the police; I actually think that’s part of the problem. We don’t have enough resources to really tackle all of the issues that we’re facing. In my mind it’s about funding and about reforming. I think that police departments need to change and get back to the roots of what police work is supposed to be, which is serving the community.
Could you elaborate on how you would like to see funding change?
I think we need funding specifically for more people like myself and my salary is about half as much as a police officer. We need more people who have a social work background and who are in the field meeting with citizens and aren’t carrying a gun. One of the things that’s so exciting about having Chief Seabrooks return is that she has a vision towards that.
When you have an officer in a uniform who shows up to a situation with a gun on his belt it creates a certain environment. When I show up and I don’t have a gun or handcuffs, while that might put me in danger, it allows me the opportunity to create an environment where we can have a more of a social work therapeutic approach.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Without a doubt my favorite part of the job is showing up to a situation where somebody is having a top five worst day of their life and I get to come help. There is no better feeling than helping someone navigate that, trying to calm them down and give them the support they need while also getting the job done.
What do you love about Santa Monica or working in Santa Monica?
I love the diversity. I love that one minute I can be north of Montana interviewing somebody who’s a multimillionaire and ten minutes later I could be interviewing a transient. I love forcing myself to be flexible and deal with different people in different situations. I love working alongside the brave men and women of the Santa Monica Police Department.