Burlingame police Chief Jack Van Etten on Monday announced his retirement effective in December after serving more than three decades with the Burlingame Police Department.
Van Etten, 57, began his career in law enforcement in the early 1970s when he worked part-time as a sheriff's cadet with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office for two years while in college.
He was hired by the Burlingame Police Department in January 1974 where he has worked as a detective, SWAT officer and firearms instructor, among other roles before being appointed the city's ninth police chief in May 2004.
He said one of the first times he realized the importance of being a police officer was when he was driving on Ray Drive in Burlingame and saw a mother pushing her baby in a stroller on the sidewalk.
“I was a young officer, and I thought my job is to ensure that this person can do what she's doing,” he said.
Tragic crimes have made being a police officer challenging, Van Etten said, recalling three particularly gruesome murders in Burlingame.
One was in 1986, when a ticket agent was stabbed to death behind the counter of the historical train depot on Burlingame Avenue. Van Etten said authorities tracked down the suspect, who was ultimately convicted of the murder.
More recently, a Minnesota woman pleaded guilty to stabbing her 13-year-old son to death in February 2002 at his grandparents' Burlingame home.
Also in 2002, a group of four suspects committed a takeover robbery of a Wells Fargo and fatally shot the bank manager, a 34-year-old
mother of two, Van Etten said.
“The bad things, the tragedies, stand out in this kind of work,” he said.
Despite the memorable crimes, Van Etten said Burlingame has always had a fairly low crime rate, and in the last five years crime has gone down.
Parking and traffic are two issues Van Etten said were prominent when he started with the Police Department in the 1970s, and have not
significantly changed since then.
“Some of the biggest issues we have in Burlingame (now) are parking and traffic and quality of life type of issues,” he said.
Van Etten said he plans to spend his retirement volunteering and spending more time with his wife and 28-year-old daughter, who also lives in Burlingame, and with his 90-year-old father, who lives in Half Moon Bay.
A new police chief has not yet been selected.