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Olivares defends kids handling SWAT weapons

Ernesto Olivares


Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares supports the decision by police to allow young children to handle fully automatic weapons during a recent community outreach event in the South Park neighborhood.

The retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant said he helped organize the first such event three years ago and said it was “unfortunate” that critics have characterized the SWAT team display as inappropriate.

“They’re way off base,” Olivares said of those who suggested allowing children to handle police weapons might foster a dangerous fascination with guns.

Some residents attending the South Park Day and Night Festival on Saturday took issue with the display put on by the Santa Rosa Police Department SWAT team. Photos taken at the event and circulated to City Council members showed a young boy holding and aiming an assault rifle and another grabbing for a riot gun. Both weapons were locked and unloaded and handled under the supervision of a SWAT team officer. An armored personnel carrier also was on display.

Attila Nagy, who took and circulated the photos, said the display of firepower and handling of weapons by children in a neighborhood that struggles with gun violence struck him as counterproductive.

“Is that supposed to make children feel secure?” Nagy said. “I feel like the whole event was insensitive to the community.”

A Santa Rosa police officer chats with youths at South Park Day and Night Festival last weekend (ATTILA NAGY)

Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm has said the goal of the display was to “demystify” the role of SWAT and tools used by officers. Doing so helps build trust between police and neighborhood residents by breaking down barriers between them, he said.

Olivares said the festival began in 2009 and was spearheaded by the mayor’s gang prevention task force, which he ran until he retired in 2008 to run for the council. The SWAT team has been part of the event every year.

The festival was modeled after a similar program in Los Angeles that organized community events in high-crime areas, such as basketball tournaments between officers and neighborhood residents, Olivares said.

In such nonconfrontational, educational settings, young people are invariably drawn to the hardware of the law enforcement trade: the badge, the handcuffs, the gun.

“The stuff attracts them,” Olivares said. “There’s still this mystique about all this stuff.”

Such interactions with young people — and often their parents, too — offer “teaching moments” that allow officers to get across important positive messages, such as the role police play in crime prevention or the importance of gun safety, Olivares said.

As an officer raising his own children, Olivares said he made sure his daughters had the opportunity to hold his service weapon in his presence. He did so because he didn’t want them to reach for it out of curiosity when an adult wasn’t around.

He said he viewed the Saturday event as performing a similar function between SWAT officers and the families in the South Park neighborhood, with whom he says police have “ongoing relationship building.”

32 Responses to “Olivares defends kids handling SWAT weapons”

  1. I hope this incident can promote a some thoughtful public discourse. What does it look like to educate our children about firearms? What does it look like to educate our children about public safety and the police? Is this what it looks like? Are there ways we can improve?

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  2. SR Watcher says:

    Why would you expect any other response from the Mayor? He has told the citizens that his view is with the Public Safety since they were his ticket in. He admits that it was his idea…his legacy even. My problem is that it shows how out of touch he and the police department are from the children who are supposed to be learning to participate in life by peaceful ways rather than with a gun. Hopefully those of us who are disgusted just didn’t hear them explain that they only use the guns as a last resort? And…Only after talking with our words…since words don’t kill. Last year they handed out balloons that looked like grenades…and when some kids did not know what they were…they were told about it in explicit detail.
    For those gun lovers…who are frothing at the mouth right about now… I understand you have a right to bear arms….but why must you justify this type of example for children? Some of these kids will be the gang leaders of the future….job security for the Coppers? No…they are just trying to get to know the kids better….before they see them on the street years from now…likely with a gun! Studies do show the males are fascinated with guns so maybe that is the reasoning behind the Mayor’s comments. Guns have been a springboard for his position in life. The event is a double edged sword…pun intended. It is like any type of event or religion that starts out with one intention and the people participating all add their perspectives until it is dilluted to be something completely different and somewhat washy or mucky. I am sure that next year will be different…time will only tell! It is hard for children to differentiate between what is real and acceptable when the very people they are learning from are pushing guns as a means of being cool! Many of the kids from that neighborhood have already seen guns….and I think learning respect for guns is a viable tool…but in this case it was out of context. The cops at the event are on overtime! They carry guns..what is the problem? Children are looking and learning>>>next year maybe SRPD should have a gun safety show? Practice what you preach….safety first!

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  3. Rick says:

    This is as out of control as I have seen a string get. This has gone from informational to full on attack. Strange, weird, almost. I posted earlier about kids and guns. My oldest son and daughter both have multiple gold medals from competitions in rifle, pistol and shotgun. Ok, my son only got a silver in shotgun. They were handling and shooting pistols at 9 and 10. There are people posting here who must think I am a monster. Wrong. My kids, with their mental discipline and common sense are your next community leaders. Eagle Scout, business owners. People have assinged evil intent to an object. This is insanity. I can almost not believe these posts are real. They seem to come from quasi-reality. Police weapons placed in the same catagory and drugs and hooker? The assault weapon comments are the most ignorant present. I would guess only two of the posters have clue what a real assault weapon is. Did you know your neighbor can still legally own a rifle JUST LIKE the one the kid is holding? It might have a different brand name but you could not tell them apart. I see these used by upstanding citizens every month in competitions. They are all legal with one tiny part changed, but they all look scary. Some would say they look great. I really should have an article written about some of youth shooting sports going on all around us. Petite 11 and 12 yo girls shooting handguns, chasing the next medal in their competition. Young boys with .22 rifles fashioned to look exactly like the one in the photo, an evil assault rifle. Shooting at targets that fall down and automatically reset. They love it. They are learning marksmanship, mental discipline and self control. They are not being brainwashed to worship anything. Get real people, the demo by SRPD was right on.

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  4. Fiscal Conservative says:

    A+ for Mayor Olivares and SRPD.

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  5. joe right says:

    Nice to see the SRPD and the City or Santa Rosa acknowledge and take the official position that a firearm of any type is an inanimate object. It is nether capable of thought or making right or wrong decisions. It’s the person behind it that
    is responsible for it’s use or misuse.

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  6. Steve Humphrey says:


    Quite frankly, us gun loving weapon admiring worshippers will be easy to identify.
    We’re the neighbor who is going to help you out of a life threatening encounter when you scream in the night. When our own government reaches a point where they have stolen all of our liberties, we’ll be the ones that help restore what our forefathers fought and died for so that you can continue to spew your thoughts freely. When a terrorist threatens your life along with hundreds of innocent citizens, we’ll be the ones that will lay it out for you.
    We’re right in front of you everyday. You just don’t recognize us with your blinders on.

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  7. sam zuech says:

    So if the cops put on an anti-drug demo are they going to give kids heroin so they can “demystify” it? The difference between being a cop in Oakland and a cop in Sonoma County is that in Oakland the people shoot at the cops, in SC the cops shoot at the people!

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  8. Roger Carrillo says:

    I am also a retired police lieutenant like Ernesto Olivares but I disagree with him about completely concerning letting children handle weapons of mass destruction like the automatic weapons used by SWAT.

    I had semi-automatic pistols in my house as a police officer and my children were taught that they were dangerous and not to be handled. Most of the time they were locked away out of sight and out of mind.

    We have too many weapons here in the US floating around and we do not need officers flaunting them and attempting to make them look cool!

    We need to develop a culture of respect and peace that views weapons as a necessary but evil part of our society not something to be idolized!

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  9. Joyce Garcia says:

    @ non violent by pointing out these particular cases in Fullerton, CA are legitimate and although I don’t know the details, I’ll wait till the courts and jury come out with a verdict.

    No one in their right mind can deny that there are corrupt cops out there and with that said………no one in their right mind would demonize all cops or choose not to point out, especially in Southern CA, the gang activity, violence, drug related crimes, robberies and so forth the cops face each day. Not to do so is not only irresponsible but would deem your attempt at making a valid point, null and void because of a lack of true credibility and a ohhhhhh too common bias. To preach on bits and pieces in order to promote a point of view, to me, would be proof of a deficiency and/or of any ability to an open mind.

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  10. Joyce Garcia says:

    I grew up during an era where boys wanted to be cowboys or cops and little girls wanted to be teachers, nurses and dare I say it….Mommies! Today little boys want to be in a band or an athlete and girls want to be actresses or a reality star.

    In the City and in Oakland kids are being taught through recent protests, that Cops are corrupt and kill black people and will target hispanics so they can deport them. Some cops are corrupt. Bad behavior will have consequences…unfortunately death is a result as is imprisonment and if pulled over for violating our LAWS, and you are here illegally, regardless of ethnicity….audios!

    Guns do not kill, the people who pull the triggers kill. In this Country we have the right to bare arms under our Constitution and our rights are being infringed upon because responsibility is not placed on the individuals who CHOOSE to use guns in violent acts.

    The Santa Rosa Police Department SWAT team and those who organized this event should be applauded not only for teaching children about firearms and the proper use, but by interacting on a personal level they are able to have a positive outlook on these men and women who place their lives in danger while protecting us.

    Demonizing an event which is beneficial to our community by educating and creating positive relationships between our youth and law enforcement seems to be counter-productive. Isn’t the goal to teach our children about right and wrong, safety and who we can and cannot trust? I don’t know about you folks, but I would rather my son and grandchildren to be influenced at an event like this rather than being influenced by a thug on the street in a drug house.

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  11. NOTUTOO says:

    Interesting how the photo in this particular editorial has been cut down from the origional. When this story first posted, the picture depicted a man who might have been the gaurdian of those two boys. I’m not saying he was, just that he appeared to be an adult and it was conceivable. Now I see that he has been cut out of the picture…

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  12. Bad photo says:

    Ernesto needs to smile more – he looks very mean and saying people who have concerns are “way off base” is really weak. He need to be dumped in the next election cycle…does seem very bright either. I applaud the concerns of parents – and feel sorry for them having such a character as their mayor.

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  13. Non Violent says:

    If the City of Santa Rosa & the County of Sonoma cannot understand the anger in the community about this, then perhaps litigation would be in order?

    Lets see the City and County excuse away its brainwashing techniques upon minor children in a setting where their gun admiring, weapon worshiping supporters are forced out into the open for every one to see and identify.

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  14. Skippy says:

    People who admire and worship guns are shallow, stupid people.

    Count me among them, including the authors of our Constitution.
    They had a little something to say about weapons, and the rights of the citizenry to own them.
    But don’t let it interrupt your peaceful, nonviolent day.
    Go back to sleep now.

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  15. bear says:

    I’ve had firearms training and I’ve fired weapons. Not automatic weapons. I instinctively didn’t like it for reasons I don’t understand. Perhaps past life experience? Go ahead and laugh – we’re all different.

    That aside, I have no problem with gun ownership and I especially have no problems at all with serious firearms education classes. Even with kids as young as nine. There are so many guns in this country that everyone should get instruction on when their use is legal and how they should be safely stored.

    But it would be good to keep them out of the hands of the certifiably mentally ill, and kids who’ve had no instruction at all.

    But I see that photo – one kid was older but the other looked about 12. This was an automatic weapon and it doesn’t sound like an intructional setting.

    All kids that age have likely played extremely violent video/computer games. No doubt the police were trying to communicate with them. But there may have been some hidden messages:

    1- Screw up and we’ll shoot you with this.
    2- It’s illegal for you to own this weapon, but they’re out there if you want to try and find one.
    3- Join the military and you can have one of these for your own (I know a kid who was just thrilled when he got his M-16 in Basic Training).
    4- This is just like your games, but its real.
    5- Get a gun and you have the power to take lives, including your own.

    I think there are other ways for police to connect with kids in troubled neighborhoods. This was “show and tell,” but not real instruction.

    I have doubts that this is a good thing.

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  16. Joseph says:

    Does the term “Word Salad” have meaning for you? You commit so many logical fallacies that your writing is quite confusing.

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  17. Steve Humphrey says:

    Where is all the public outcry when our school systems let your children handle condoms?
    Teaching a child to handle a weapon with respect by a trained official seems like a great idea. Or maybe you all think it better to have some gang banger show them his arsenal.
    We should be all for anything the Police do to help teach and educate our children.
    Well done Mr. Mayor. Keep up the good work.

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  18. Non Violent says:

    I see that the Press Democrat has done what it routinely does in the form of censorship of reader comments and reader views.

    I posted earlier that, as but one example, the Fullerton, CA, Police Department is being investigated by the FBI, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the Orange County Grand Jury.


    Because the Fullerton Police are in the news for TWO dangerous acts against private citizens.

    First, SIX of their trained, armed thug cops beat an un-armed man to death recently using fists, kicking, tasers, clubs, and knees. All six cops are currently suspended as videos and witnesses are being interviewed.

    Secondly, the Fullterton, CA, Police admitted in yesterday’s news that they had been caught engaged in lies regarding a man that they now admit was wrongly arrested. They arrested him and charged his with assaulting an officer, dragged him into court where the officers lied under oath and in their police reports, and then were caught only because of video that contradicted their lies.

    Their excuse ? “Things were chaotic at the scene.” So, you see, its okay to arrest the wrong man and then lie about it and attempt to imprison him even when the police claim it was “chaotic.”

    That is but one, single example of why the police cannot be trusted simply because of their job occupation and their badge.

    I posted a dozen examples of other recent police misconduct and the Press Democrat deleted those examples. Let us see if the PD has the courage to allow TRUTH in Sonoma County discussions rather than trying to shield the police from facts and observations.

    The police have zero business interacting with minor children and encouraging them to admire weapons that kill people. Weapons are not toys and the Santa Rosa Police were absolutely WRONG in encouraging kids to admire the weapons.

    People who admire and worship guns are shallow, stupid people.

    The Mayor of Santa Rosa, a former cop, needs to obey the public in this matter and disregard the police worshipers. Guns are not toys, Mayor. And the police are not there to brainwash our children.

    Understand ??????????

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  19. The Facts says:

    Mr. Mayor, you are way off base. Your analogy fails. Kids have lots of interest… they like guns, drugs, sex, porn and lots of bad things. I guess using your ignorant analogy, we should have the police expand their booth to include meeting hookers, a porn booth for kids to view (safely with cops); and a booth to check out all the illegal drugs. Of course, this will satisfy their curiosity and prevent them from becoming bad people. Using YOUR analogy, do you suggest school cops pull out their weapons and unload them and let kids hold the guns at the schools too? Right, if an officer did that they would be fired/arrested. Come on Earnie- get real. Sorry former officer/now mayor. You are just trying to justify the bad decision of your former buddies, to get more votes. Face it, they made a bad mistake. You don’t have to hand a kid a real machine gun to “connect” with them. There are plenty of ways and legit programs to connect with kids and help guide them in the right direction without having to buddy-buddy with the kids and satisfy their curiosity by handing them deadly weapons. What they have done has likely “ENCOURAGED” their curiosity to hold/touch and own such a weapon. STUPID decision and worse when the mayor (not Mayor) condones this garbage. Shame on you Earnie. You lost my vote in the next election. Perhaps Bright Star Security has a position for you- I think they will let you carry your “gun” there, with a Guard Card.

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  20. Ray Monraz says:

    Can’t we just leave it as a parental issue. I don’t see why everything needs to be turned into a liberal vs conservative issue. Personally, I would probably let my kid hold the gun, just because it’s coming from the SWAT, I know he would get a kick out of it. My wife on the other hand would probably freak out.

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  21. Concerned Parent says:

    I forgot he was our Mayor…hahaha Didn’t vote for him! Now I know why…

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  22. Terry says:

    I was raised by a police officer, we all knew where Dad kept his gun. BUT we were taught(starting at an early age) it was not a toy and it could kill and we would be in hella trouble if we touched it. I never touched it…did look at it a bunch though.
    Non Violent…just admit it you are a cop hater and get over it. I bet you don’t have any children and don’t know that if you teach them about guns and concequences that come from shooting them, that they will not ‘play’ with them.

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  23. Marcus says:

    The Mayor is right on this one. It is good the kids get to see the cops in a different role talking with them and not to them. This program needs to be expanded and stop worrying about the liberals who don’t like the police much anyway and never have.

    Good job Mayor.

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  24. doodles says:

    How many of these kids were given violent Nintendo games for Xmas by their parents??? Or, what of the parents who have their own guns at home and have no problem brandishing them amongst family and friends as if it were an appropriate way to deal with conflict. Bottom line, it may have been bad judgment but this one event is not the cause of urban violence; it’s more complex than that. If SWAT stopped attending these events tomorrow, the problems would not vanish. But, with our without gun demos, I encourage the cops to be out in the community more—-the relationships they form will help decrease the knee jerk negative reactions to police.

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  25. Rick says:

    I posted this same response on a similar article. I hope I am not violating posting etiquette by copying it here. The info seemed appropriate..
    I have seen many interesting comments here. Some think it was great, some think it was horrible. I think the opinions follow each persons experience. Some say it is a political demonstration of the only future available to a certain demographic in a geographical area. I saw that movie. I saw the word “Assault rifle” thrown around like it was an evil demon bent on destroying all who touch it.
    Was it firearms education? Some say yes and some say no. Some say, where are the experts on the subject, what do they say? Well, it wouldn’t matter. Those who have made up their minds won’t be swayed by an expert. That being said, I am and expert. I am a certified, card carrying instructor at the local, state and national level. Including Range safety, handguns, rifles, shotguns, competition shooting and all black powder guns. I teach over 2 dozen courses a year and coordinate and plan many more. This display by SRPD was fine. There were handling the guns with direct supervision. I am assuming they were told how to hold the gun since hewas holding it fine. I would call that instruction “education”. They took advantage of a teachable moment. It works. Parental permission? Sounds like some people there posted here that the children were asking permssion. One person seemed upset the kids were “enjoying” the guns. I should hope so. No one should be forced to participate if they were not going to have fun. I teach kids to shoot. They are the majority of my participants. Some come out as families and they all learn the same thing at the same time. Age is up to the parents. Some people who own guns want their youngest children to be exposed to them in a controlled environment to elimiate the mystery. They are not mysterious living things, they are mechanical devices. As for the gun violence in America, a country I am proud to have served and live in, no child who has ever gone through an organized youth shooting sports program has EVER been a mass murder shooter in this country. EVER. They learned early on that guns were tools to be respected and used, not worshiped. Kids in competitive shooting, 9 year old minimum in some programs, not mine, learn mental discipline and self control. These tpes of events are invaluable. Yes, we have more gun crimes than the UK, but they have 4 times the violent crime rate of the USA. Thank goodness those people in the UK don’t have guns, there would be few left standing. God bless America.

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  26. Shelby says:

    Boys are and always will be fascinated with guns. The opportunity to see ,touch and handle them in the presents of a
    SWAT team member was no doubt quite an attraction for them. It offered a chance for some dialog and positive interaction between youth and the police. I am sure this was there intention.
    Maybe not Sonoma County PC but hey, how PC can we afford to be anymore?

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  27. Non Violent says:

    People who worship guns and worship the police badge are just plain stupid.

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  28. Non Violent says:



    Below is yet another example of why you don’t want cops brainwashing your kids into their warped thinking. Daily headlines, every day, show cops can’t be trusted.

    U.S. probes alleged bias by sheriff in Antelope Valley

    By Robert Faturechi | 4:54 p.m.
    The probe centers on potential civil rights infringements against residents of government subsidized housing, the bulk of whom are black and Latino, in the historically white area.

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  29. Pearl Alquieres says:

    Keep your children ignorant & they’ll grow up to be good liberals!

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  30. Joseph says:

    San Diego Police officer Jeremy Henwood was shot at point blank range in the head by 23 year old Dejon White, who then went on to commit suicide by cop after leaving a two page suicide note.
    Any effort to connect our officers with our youth is a positive moment.
    The complaints are misplaced, respect for the integrity of the uniform, and information about the role of law enforcement is much needed in the community.
    A bigger problem can be noted by looking at the last 23 officer involved shootings. Eighteen involved people connected with the mental health system. Seventeen were using or abusing substance that were addictive or harmful at the time of their demise. The most common form of mental illness in the college age children is alcohol abuse. Just a few weeks ago we lost a very bright fourteen year old due to alcohol poisoning.
    A lack of education in both firearm handling and alcohol use can have deadly consequences.
    We cannot solve either without a dialog with our youth.
    It is a difficult conversation, but one that we must engage in if our kids are going to have a chance at a future.

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  31. Alex says:

    I agree with the Mayor. It is better to educate rather than put your head in the sand like they are not going to play with it. This is like complaining that teaching sex ed is going to make kids go out and have sex and get pregnant. Good God, grow up!

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