May 15, 2007 > Newark Police Officer John Boga
Newark Police Officer John Boga
By Steve Warga
From his earliest childhood days, John Boga was a "hands-on" sort of fellow, following in the footsteps of his cabinet-maker father. His personal interest in home-building was not promising enough financially, so Boga went to work for Newark Unified School District as a night custodian, worked his way into gardening, bus driving and, finally, bus repair and maintenance. He was also persuaded by some friends in the police department to become a reserve officer in April, 1982.
As time went on, Boga mulled the pros and cons of full time police service. Ultimately, he joined the force to become involved in community intervention services, especially with Newark youngsters. After early years in the Patrol Division, he was chosen as the Newark Memorial High School Resources Officer in 1991. Four years later, Boga applied to become Newark's first DARE officer. He has held that same slot for eleven years, culminating in state honors last year. Boga also earned the honor of presenting the U. S. flag in opening ceremonies of this year's International DARE Convention in Florida.
The department's rotation policies require Boga to surrender his DARE position to a fellow-officer in September. With 25 years of service to his credit, Boga thinks "it's time to hang-up my cleats."
Newark residents and most of their children over the past two decades owe a big debt of gratitude to this modest, congenial and dedicated police officer. His personal odyssey from building houses to the hands-on business of molding young minds has produced immeasurable benefits to countless lives in the city he loves.
TCV asked Officer Boga about his service with the Newark Police Department and DARE.
TCV: Why do you think DARE is important?
Boga: It's tough to quantify in some ways. I know that lots of studies over the years have produced many conclusions, but one consistent conclusion is that a uniformed police officer is the best mechanism for delivering information to kids about the pitfalls of substance use and abuse, gangs, violence...the whole bit.
Community policing is a strong component of Newark law enforcement. We have the chance for intervention with kids before they become enforcement 'customers.' You know, the basic function of police work is incarcerating the bad guys. The DARE program can reach and help straighten out kids who may be bent, but not yet broken.
TCV: Some Tri-City area municipalities have cut DARE programs due to budget shortfalls. What about Newark?
Boga: I hope the program goes for generations here in Newark. We've even expanded to add the Gang Resistance and Training (GREAT) program along with Community Service Teams (CST). They're all under the supervision of Sergeant Frank Lehr. If you believe these programs don't work - as some people do - I can tell you that just having a uniformed officer in a classroom interacting with the youth of our community is invaluable.
For instance, I've been on domestic disturbance calls where the adults are agitated and yelling, while the cops are trying to restore some order. Suddenly, a kid in the background will say, 'Hey, Officer Boga!' Everything just goes quiet after that.
Uniformed officers talking to kids on their turf makes a difference in the long run.
TCV: Is DARE training part of a school's regular curriculum?
Boga: Yes. I work with kindergarten through seventh grade in Newark Unified; and I also cover kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Edwards. I hit every class, every year. The kids have course work and they're graded on it. That grade becomes part of their overall Health grade.
We now have added the GREAT program for fifth through eighth graders. It focuses more on the problems with violence and gang activities.
With DARE, I try to keep it interesting. You know, I don't do the bit about turning to page 46 and working on those math problems! We use visual aids, and we have an essay contest and so on. I cover a lot of ground and it's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun for me. I really enjoy working with the kids.
TCV: Do you have much interaction with parents?
Boga: Definitely. Part of DARE's logo is a triangle with schools and police on the two sides and parents at the bottom, the foundation of the triangle. With me, parents are numero uno; it all starts with them.
I'll see things like kids playing 'R' rated video games and ask where they got them. Many times it's the parents who buy these things. That's just not right. Parents have to pay attention to their kids and give them the structure for learning to make good decisions. We try to teach kids that certain choices lead to bad consequences while others lead to good consequences. But it takes the parents to reinforce things; there are always consequences following the decisions we make.
TCV: What are some of your favorite highlights?
Boga: Well, here's a picture of this young lady when she was a sixth-grade student at Bunker School. She's wearing the medal we awarded for her essay. And over here is one taken last year in her uniform. She's now a police dispatcher across the Bay.
After 11 years in this job, I get to see former students grown-up and going to college or starting careers. That's rewarding to me.
I remember a girl named Jennifer who was one of my students a few years ago. She seemed bright and was hanging with the right kids. Then, she started hanging with the wrong crowd and just disappeared one day.
I never knew what happened to her until I was in a Starbucks just recently. This young woman pushing a baby stroller looks at me and says, 'Aren't you Officer Boga?' Well, it was Jennifer and she told me how she'd gone astray for awhile, but got her life back on track. She got her GED and is now attending Ohlone College.
Then she said, 'It was all because of what you said. Remember Mr. Wilson's psych class?' I actually couldn't recall the particulars, but she certainly didn't forget.
Jennifer went on, 'You said keep your life on track; be true to yourself rather than giving in to peer pressure. Well, that stuck with me. When I was ready to turn things around, your words put me back on the right track.'
That was a pretty touching thing. I walked out of there feeling real proud and thinking, 'Wow! I did something while I was here; I wasn't just taking up space.'