A quizzical look spreads across the face of Capt. Cedric Crook as he looks around his office. It is as if he is still trying to accept the reality that he is now the interim Police Chief of a department rocked by a string of misconduct cases.
It’s been a head-spinning two weeks for Crook and his staff of twenty-six sworn officers since the abrupt firing of former Police Chief Noble Waidelich. Yet, in Crook’s mind, the task is clear: “We are going to do our jobs. We are going to survive this.”
Crook’s good cop instincts are at play. He projects calm in the face of uncertainty, and he is convinced a tarnished police department can restore itself to the respect and prominence it once enjoyed on the North Coast.
“We are a solid agency. We know how to serve and protect our community,” said Crook.
It is too early for Crook or city officials to speculate whether the department veteran will be in the running for a permanent appointment as police chief. He joined the department in 1997 straight out of the Police Academy.
The whirlwind of recent events allowed no time for Crook to prepare to take on the role of Police Chief.
“It’s only been since June 14. Honestly, all of us are focusing on our jobs and doing what it takes. Crime doesn’t stop, and neither can we,” said Crook.
Deputy City Manager Shannon Riley said City Hall is “grateful to have someone with as much experience as Captain Cook to be able to step into this interim role.”
Crook unexpectedly found himself as chief of the department when his predecessor Noble Waidelich was fired less than a year after he took office.
Waidelich’s departure was abrupt, and specific details behind the reasons why remain unknown. Results of an outside criminal investigation being conducted by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office into Waidelich also are unknown. Besides those issues, Waidelich in September is facing trial for a civil lawsuit filed in 2017 by a former county probation officer who claims he physically and emotionally abused her while they lived together. She eventually lost her job and was officially branded a liar by District Attorney David Eyster while Waidelich rose through the ranks to become chief.
UPD also is shadowed by the pending criminal trial of Sgt. Kevin Murray who has been charged with a litany of crimes spanning over eight years including burglary, forced oral copulation, and possession of methamphetamine.
Just this past March, the department cleared a squad of officers of wrongdoing in connection with a violent arrest of a naked mentally ill man. At the same time, it was disclosed that the city paid $211,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by lawyers for 25-year-old Gerardo Magdaleno, the man tased, taken down, and beat by officers before he was finally subdued.
The interim police chief is described as a ‘quiet but genuine’ man, with a reputation as a good investigator and a former member of a county-wide drug task force. Crook, 47, grew up in Mendocino County. His mother is a retired schoolteacher, and his late father was an accountant. He is the father of two sons.
For Crook, his appointment as interim chief is a challenge even though his rise through department ranks reflects a depth of policing skills, and his reputation among law enforcement is seemingly rock-solid.
“I wasn’t expecting this, no doubt,’ said Crook, who still wears his Captain’s shirt even though he is now in charge of a police agency with a $12 million annual budget.
Crook recalls wanting to go into law enforcement before he even graduated from Ukiah High School.
“I always wanted to be a cop,” he said.
Crook left Ukiah after high school to attend the University of Nevada at Reno. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and a minor in Spanish.
“When I graduated, I was bilingual, but I don’t make that claim now. I am a little rusty,” said Crook.
Crook has witnessed some high-profile cases and local disasters up close during his career, including a devastating fatal fire that ravaged the northern end of Redwood Valley in October 2017.
Crook rode in the ambulance on a cold night in March 2003 that rushed now retired Ukiah Police Sgt. Marcus Young to a local hospital following a shootout with a violent felon in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. Young survived thanks to the help of a young police cadet who was riding with him, but the officer’s injuries eventually forced his retirement.
Crook was among the first responders to the scene. “None of us will ever forget that night,” said Crook.
Crook declined to talk specifics about recent department problems because of pending investigations, and litigation.
Overall, Crook said the Ukiah department is not alone in struggling with persistent mental health, gang, homeless, and drug-related issues.
“I can say that all the agencies in the county are now working more closely together on these issues, and we are meeting and developing better ways to respond,” said Crook.
Fentanyl, a deadly manufactured drug, is a surging problem locally as it is statewide and nationally, said Crook. There are persistent gang-related problems, he said, and substance abuse and mental health issues within the local homeless population remain rampant.
Crook said while he is unsure what the future holds personally, “I am going to do the job I have always done. The staff and I will get through this together.”