Officer Quijada: “Chemo” Therapy

Chemo Therapy by Bret Bradigan

Note: This editorial was published in the Ojai Valley News in May of 2008. The OVN won 3rd place from the National Newspaper Association for the editorial.

In the past 18 months, we have had three incidents in Ojai involving firearms – a shooting on Drown Street in February 2007, a shooting on Fox Street in September 2007, and reports of gang members brandishing a pistol in Meiners Oaks on March 20 of this year. These are ill portents for our quiet community. Lines of race and class are drawn sharply now that were never before so distinct. A climate of fear and hostility has crept into our lives. We gradually grow apart from each other, with fewer and fewer of those casual interactions that once blurred these boundaries of race and class and created, in myriad multiplying ways, our community.

Gang influences flourish in this void, where neighbors, instead of becoming friends, become some abstract “other.” People start looking out for themselves as defined by their narrow self-interests, and lose sight of the larger benefits of opportunity and safety that accrue to the altruistic purposes of looking out for each other.

It was not always like this. Back in the day, Ojai had a one-man gang task force named Anselmo “Chemo” Quijada. Pronounced “Chummo,” he was everywhere and knew everyone, from 1955 until his retirement from the Ojai Police Department in 1980.

Virtually all Ojai old timers have Chemo stories – about how he would instantly size up a suspect to determine whether they were a bad kid doing bad things or a good kid doing bad things. And he would treat them accordingly – there was no one-size-fits-all policing in those days.

“He kept a lot of guys out of trouble by handling things personally,” said Vince France, Ojai’s police chief back in the 1970s. France would know. He was one of those trouble-makers. “I probably wouldn’t have been a police officer except for the fact that Chemo took a personal interest in me. He treated me almost like a son … I could easily have gone the other way.”

France spoke fondly of his teen-age days as a local rowdy, when he’d be caught in the act of underage drinking and the cops “would pick me up in a squad car and ride me around until I sobered up, then take me home.”

Another of these wayward-trending youths was Keith Nightingale, who was one of France’s partners in adolescent mischief-making and went on to a successful career as a military officer and now globe-trotting government contractor. “I grew up with him and he did a great deal for the boys of Ojai and kept a lot of us out of jail – figuratively and literally … He always had an understanding mind as to when a boy was being a boy or was really going bad and would adjust as needed.”

Boyd Ford said that his son, Dennis, had broken into the nearby Presbyterian Church, camped out for the night, and was discovered by the police. Quijada “came right into our living room with Dennis, (mother) Maxine and I and talked to all of us. You don’t get that anymore.”

Another Chemo story involved kids smoking marijuana in the Matilija Junior High School parking lot in the late 1970s. Quijada made them discard the illegal substance and ordered the kids to tell their parents they’d been smoking pot, and said he would call the parents later to make sure his orders had been followed. He did and they had. Names have been withheld to protect the guilty.

One project that Quijada provided for Ojai boys was a productive outlet for their aggression. “He was acutely aware that Ojai had nothing much for boys, so he started a boys’ athletic club where Ojai Coffee Roasting is now. It got a pretty big clientele and he staged fights Friday night and Saturday afternoon between boys so they would stay positively engaged.”

Ojai had few Latinos in those days, and Quijada took a personal interest in all of them. We have a growing Latino population now – in fact, as a percentage of our school-age population, Latino enrollment has nearly tripled since the days of Chemo Quijada nearly a half century ago.

France believes that the gang members of today are mostly hardened criminals with “no conscience. I don’t know that the approach Chemo had would do any good,” he said. But he did allow that early intervention from caring adults could make a positive difference. One policing problem now, France said, is that the system doesn’t allow the same kind of flexibility and discretion that Chemo routinely employed. “Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.”

Nightingale said, “I’m afraid Ojai is so large and economically segregated that a ‘Chummo’-type person could not work the magic now that he did then … the best we can hope for is that we find several Chummos working their constituency, recognizing that if one person can be made better, we are all better.”

A quiet beat cop who rarely drew attention to himself, nearly 1,000 people turned out for a benefit for Quijada when he was suffering from the cancer that claimed his life in 1985. “It was the damnedest thing you ever saw,” said France. “All these politicians and movers and shakers right next to the crooks that Chemo had arrested. I think we raised more than $20,000.”

Ojai’s best days may yet be ahead of us, if all of us who call this place home shoulder the responsibility to make that happen. And we can best do this in quiet ways – one-on-one, with watchful eyes and open hearts. We are all role models, whether we like it or not. It is good for us in Ojai to remember we have such a rich legacy of role models on which to pattern ourselves. For Ojai to live up to its promise, we have to carry a little of Chemo Quijada’s spirit within each of us.

Note: The Ojai Police Boy’s Club was founded by Chief J. D. Alcorn; Anselmo “Chemo” Quijada was the acting director. The City of Ojai donated $500 to start the project. Boxing, wrestling, judo, and fencing were taught under personal and competent supervision. The ring used was purchased from “Pop” Soper, a well-known character of the boxing world. Many famous boxers trained at his camp in Matilija Canyon. Those who probably trained in the ring purchased by the Police Boys Club were Jack Dempsey, Jack Roper, Jackie Fields, Barney Ross, Mickey Walker, and many others. Boys from fourteen to eighteen years of age were eligible. Boxers of note would drop by the club and give instruction to the boys on the finer points of boxing. Each month a scholarship was given to a member by a prominent member of the community.

10 Replies to “Officer Quijada: “Chemo” Therapy”

  1. I remember hanging out at the Ojai Police Boy’s Club in the late 1950s. I stepped in the ring only once, taking a punch that convinced me boxing was not a sport for me! Chummo was a true friend to Ojai’s youth…and to everyone. I remember years later hanging out at Carrow’s after work, drinking coffee with Chummo, Bob Heller, George Matiasz, Paul Labute, Dino Lepas, and many others.

  2. There was a period of time in the mid ’60s when a lot of kids were drawn to “The Wall” in downtown Ojai. When it became “overgrown”, Chemo would wander by and, without a word, the crowd would disperse. It was obvious that his presence was more of an influence than enforcer. I’ve never seen a small town cop so crisply uniformed. On the hotest day, Chemo would always look like he’d just pressed his uniform.

  3. My mother, Arlou Mashburn, took me to the Ojai Frosty for an ice cream cone when I was a little boy. I’d say this was around 1955 to ’56 and I was about 4 or 5 years old. Chemo pulled up and parked the City of Ojai Police Department’s three-wheel motorcyle along the curb of Ojai Avenue. He and Mom began a conversation while I was eating my ice cream. I must have been misbehaving or something. I don’t recall exactly what Chemo said to me, but I do remember him telling me that if I didn’t straighten-up that he was going to put me in the large, enclosed compartment that was behind the driver’s seat on his motorcycle. This must have startled me and I sort of jerked my hand that was holding the ice cream cone. The ice cream fell off the cone and made a direct hit on the toe of one of Chemo’s highly polished shoes. I can remember thinking along the lines of, “Now I’ve had it!” It was so many years ago, I’m unable to recall what Chemo and my mother did. Knowing how wonderful a person Chemo was, I doubt he did anything, but laugh it off. At the time this happened my family and I lived on E. Aliso Street in Ojai in a home that was the first home my parents purchased. It sold several times over the years after we moved out of it. But, one of the future owners was Chemo.

  4. This is a fantastic tribute to such a man. Special. Appropriate concern about the current state of Ojai. Recently, spoke with various people about how it would be nice to see a few police, every now and again, on their bicycles or hoofing it around town. Some personal presence would be nice. I believe it can be done, Chummo style!

  5. I remember Chemo, he brought me home once from a party straight to my moms door, that was so embarrassing for me and it must have been the same for my mother. He was always so personal and kind to everyone who had the opportunity to meet him. I always wanted to ride on the three wheeled motorcycle he drove, it was really cool. I cant beleive it’s almost been three decades gone since he passed.
    He could have been a hard nosed peace officer but he got results by using his head and heart, at the same time he was a man’s, man. Chemo was a great man and a great older cousin. Peace to you Sir.

  6. When I was in 10th grade or so, I was doing some stupid stuff, and one evening stormed out of the house defying my parents’ demand that I stay home. This was probably around 1966 or 1967. My mother, knowing where I was headed, call the Ojai police and asked that I be picked up, but only on the condition that Chemo was involved, and could talk to me. I got picked up around 8 pm and had to sit in the Ojai cop shop until Chemo came on duty at midnight. We had a long talk, and I remember to this day his advice….”when you are feeling confused about things, go for a long walk in the hills. I do it all the time, and it clears your head”….

    Can you imagine that advice being given today??!!

  7. Just so this isn’t lost in the pages of time and history, to top it off Chemo was also the Scoutmaster of Ojai’s venerable Troop 504 sponsored by the Rotary Club. When I became a scout in 1965 it had been a couple (few?) years since he’d been the leader but it was still fully talked about among the boys. When I was a teenager he was viewed as being a nice cop, “community policing” at its best!

  8. Chemo was responsible for halting my life of crime when I was about 9 years old in the late 50’s. A friend of mine and I were bored that summer, broke into the old train station on Bryant St., did some damage, and was caught by you know who. The very words I’ve heard from my dad on being responsible for my actions
    I heard from Chemo, along with some other sound advise. He later was my Marksmanship merit badge counselor, and Hunter Safety instructor.
    Good post Rick. Troop 504 was the troop to beat. It seemed like at every scouting event during awards Troop 504 was called forward many times. Great troop and outstanding Scoutmasters, Chemo and your dad.

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