MARTINEZ, Calif. – Cpl. Mike Estanol, newly assigned to the city downtown beat by Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal, already is a familiar face to local merchants and shoppers. He’s on a first-name basis with most of them.
He’s also active on pertinent social media sites. So he also knows the name of the woman posting “lost dog” flyers as well as how to reach her if he spots her missing pet.
And he’s had a longtime connection with the downtown Martinez business district.
Estanol, 43, was a Union Bank teller in 1990 when several Martinez Police officers who banked there suggested law enforcement as a career.
He became a reserve police officer in 1996, and the next year, he was offered a department sponsorship for police academy training so he’d be ready for an upcoming vacancy. Estanol couldn’t give his employer the usual two weeks’ notice – the academy started Monday of the next week.
“Fortunately, my boss knew,” he said.
Estanol has been with Martinez Police Department since his graduation, initially on patrol, then as a member of the motorcycle unit and traffic division from 2001 to 2007.
From 2007 to 2010, he was a detective, then was promoted to the rank of corporal and assigned to patrol. “I’ve been on patrol ever since,” he said.
While the assignment to the downtown area is new, Estanol said it’s no different than what he’s been doing all along. He said he would focus on where people congregate.
“While on patrol, I made it a point to get to know people,” he said. “I would get out of my car and walk Main Street. I know the merchants by their first names.” They, in turn, wave and call him “Mike.”
When Sappal initially spoke of assigning an officer to the downtown area, he emphasized the importance that his choice be able to communicate with all people the officer would meet.
Estanol has that skill. In fact, when the department sends an officer to give presentations, to speak at Alhambra High School, at safety fairs or at recruitment sessions at the police academy, Estanol usually is its representative.
In addition, as detective, he was a sexual assault investigator, speaking with victims and their families and using his communication skills to build trust. He learned how to approach other agencies to create beneficial partnerships, and he expects to use those skills in his new assignment.
He acknowledged that Martinez and its downtown area have situations that need addressing.
“Martinez needs to create a new narrative,” he said, explaining that this may be a new concept for much of the city’s population.
That’s because the city, as the seat of government for Contra Costa County, has circumstances other area cities don’t have – a county hospital, the county jail, a train station and services for less fortunate and troubled people.
“We call them consumers of services,” Estanol said. “They come to the downtown and they stay because of the services.
For instance, someone from Antioch may be sent to Martinez because of an involuntary psychiatric hold, or “5150” in California Welfare and Institutions Code. “After they’re released, they open the door and walk out,” Estanol said. Others arrive by train and by other methods.
The person may observe Martinez’s weather and support system, observe that “Martinez is welcoming,” and decide to stay, he said.
“Our administration realizes they have to do something to help. If not, the sidewalks will roll up and no one will want to frequent the downtown,” he said.
However, the public also needs to realize that being homeless is not a crime. “Let me be clear,” he said, “mental illness is not a crime.”
Just as he developed partnerships during his years as an investigator, Estanol said Martinez Police is working with Doug Stewart, founder of Contra Costa Homeless Outreach, whose organization provides the homeless with multiple services, from finding them shelter to getting them basic needs, including the chance to have a shower.
Likewise, Contra Costa County Health Services provides mental health and crisis help when matters become critical.
If those services can reach those in need and prevent people from going to jail, “it’s a win-win,” Estanol said.
But to those who refuse the available help and then commit violations, he said, “We’ll address that, too.”
As an example, he said: “If you leave property like trash on the sidewalk, and you are on another block, it will be cleaned up. No one wants to smell urine on a blanket.”
He said Martinez Police will be working with the city’s code enforcement to correct blight, such as getting graffiti cleaned off as soon as possible. He called it the “broken window” principal, in which one broken window isn’t repaired. More windows get broken, and if the building remains neglected, eventually it deteriorates.
Estanol said he would be conducting town hall meetings in addition to his online activity. That way, merchants, residents and others will be able to see him face to face to discuss concerns, rather than just communicate through emails. He said he’ll also be working with merchant organizations, including the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and Martinez Main Street.
However, Estanol asked for the public’s patience, too.
“I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep,” he said. Cleaning up the downtown area will take time, and police need support of the public.
In addition, people need to remember to lock their cars when they park downtown, and remove or place in vehicle trunks any valuables. “Out of sight, out of mine,” he said, reminding the public that what may not seem an important item left on a car seat, such as a diaper bag, might appear to be a laptop to another person.
“If you are approached, call the police or Homeless Outreach,” he said. “Money doesn’t solve the problem.”
Martinez Police Department’s non-emergency number is (925) 372-3440. Contra Costa Health Services has a free emergency and referral number available around the clock, 888-678-7277, and the Contra Costa Crisis Center’s number is 800-833-2900. Stewart’s Contra Costa Homeless Outreach number available after 4 p.m., (925) 812-3511.