Hometown Heroes Part Two
Committed to Public Service
By Rhonda Bigovich, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer
Published in the Two Rivers Tribune March 14, 2017-Volume 23, Issue 10
In 2015, HVTP Officer, Robert Buckman graduated with the 116 Police Academy class at College of the Redwoods. Buckman said he had always aspired to become a police officer. Now at age 23, Buckman is in his second year of policing and the youngest fire captain at the Hoopa Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD).
Buckman said he is fortunate to have several mentors within the police and fire departments. The two men who influenced him most were Sergeant Karl Norton and Sergeant Seth Ruiz, both of whom initiated and included Buckman in ride-alongs.
After a civilian shows interest in joining an officer on a ride-along, they undergo a routine background check. Once approved they are allowed to tag along with an on-duty officer on service calls. After a few ride-alongs, Buckman chose to move forward with a career in law enforcement.
“I was 19 years old when I started going on ride-alongs,” Buckman said. “I realized it’s not ever the same. You are constantly doing something different every day. That was the selling point for me.”
For the past five years Buckman devoted his time to the HVFD assisting the community in emergency situations—vehicle accidents, structure fires and a first responder incidences. Being a first responder is an essential credential in both fields.
HVFD Fire Chief Amos Pole said, “Robert Buckman quickly moved up the ranks to fire captain. When he first joined the volunteer fire department he worked at the Tribal Environment Protection Agency as a Compliancy Officer, he had to balance officer duties and volunteer work, and his natural abilities were quickly realized. He has several qualifications and certificates and is a valuable asset to our crew. Now he holds a position with HVTP and is still an active member and captain for the Hoopa Valley Fire and Rescue Department.”
As a rookie volunteer firefighter Buckman responded to a majority of the calls from HVFD. These days he must manage his time more carefully between the police and fire departments.
He said it was an easy transition from volunteer fire fighter to a police officer because he had established relationships with both organizations. He said he received a lot of on the job trainings, with men who had been with the volunteer crew longer than him. They were quick to share their knowledge and experience with him.
“It is hard to separate the two positions,” Buckman said. “I’ve worked nights since I started working as a police officer. I don’t go on as many calls for the volunteer fire department as I used to. I just go on the large structure fires or severe accidents.”
The hardest part of being a police officer in this area, he said, is the repetitive calls. The same calls. The same people, and it’s usually regarding people who frequent the downtown area who are either; drunk in public, fighting, panhandling or just harassing other community members.
Loitering under the Hoopa Valley Tribal Ordinance is not a violation that warrants arrest. Police are limited to cite and release.
“I try to be the good guy when I see someone breaking the law or who is intoxicated in the downtown Hoopa area. I will take them home rather than arrest them,” Buckman said. “We have been working on the loitering problem and this department has been pressing the issue. People need to understand that downtown Hoopa is not a place they can hang out and drink,” he said.
This creates problems for the department due to the lack of cross-deputized officers. An officer’s absence from the reservation floor could be disastrous. The prospect of law enforcement not being available if an emergent situation arises is critical said Buckman. So he opts to drive them home, and a majority of the time the individuals do not recall the gesture at all.
“Officer Buckman has the initiative to want to improve himself and this community as a whole. One of his strong points is community policing. In a small town like Hoopa, community policing is huge and he has great rapport with the community,” said Norton. “He has become an exemplary officer, and in his young career I’ve witnessed him make decisions at a veteran officer level.”
According to Buckman, work is what you make it; you can wait in the office for service calls or you can go patrolling. He says patrolling is the best part of the job. Some days there are only a few calls and other days you might have twenty.
Physical scuffles with individuals can result in resisting arrest. Standard traffic stops can turn into high speed chases. Officers deal with a large spectrum of scenarios that include violent offenders, stabbings, attempted homicides, assault, domestic violence and more.
“I remember an incident when a male subject fled from a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer and the subject jumped in the river. Buckman assisted me in saving the individual. The river was huge and if the individual was in the water any longer, we would have lost him.,” Norton said. “There were veteran officers on the scene, but Buckman was the one helping to retrieve the individual from the river. ”
“The thing I enjoy most is the daily routine. You never encounter the same situation so it doesn’t become boring, ” said Buckman. “Violent situations occur day-to-day. The problem is that no one wants to press charges, and if questioned they don’t want to give details. This makes all the difference from someone getting away from an attempted murder charge.”
As an officer working in a rural area, community policing is imperative. Buckman wants to help turn around the negative view people have on policemen. He is leading by action not words. He keeps a positive mindset and applies patience even when subjects come across in a negative way. He strives to keep a level head on the job.
Buckman said the HVTPD has developed a well-rounded working relationship with Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputies and CHP officers. Regardless of what public perception may be, the officers and deputies work their full shifts here in the valley and other agency officers consider this area their turf as well, they too have responsibilities to the community.
Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman, Ryan Jackson is one of Buckman’s closest friends and his maternal uncle.
“I’ve been able to watch my nephew grow from a little baby boy into a very responsible and respectful young man. His dedication to our tribe and community is something that I am very proud of,” Jackson said. “Robert Jay has a heart of gold and his willingness to be of service to the community is a testament to that fact. I look forward to watching Robert grow and be successful in our community.”