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Long Arm of Law to Flex Its Muscle in Police Games

June 15, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

Thugs, take note. Next week is not the time to knock over that Oxnard Boulevard convenience store or that A Street bank you've been eyeing.

Beginning Sunday, about 5,200 police officers from throughout the state will converge on Oxnard for the annual California Police Olympics.

The six-day event is expected to attract representatives from about 400 departments spanning most levels of law enforcement--from city police officers and county sheriff's deputies to members of the U.S. Border Patrol and federal marshals. Even state lottery investigators are expected to compete.

"Oxnard is going to be a very safe place," said patrol officer patrol officer Lee Wilco, co-chairman of the Oxnard Police Department's organizing committee.

It also will be crowded. City officials expect 50,000 spectators--most of them from out of town--to gather to watch the long arm of the law flex its muscle in 45 competitive events, including arm-wrestling, boxing and bodybuilding.

The throngs attracted by the games are expected to pump $5 million into Oxnard and four other Ventura County cities where events will be held and contestants will hang their hats.

One of the few other times the county has seen a convention on this order, city officials say, was when Oxnard was host for the 1985 Police Olympics, billed as the second-largest sporting event after the international Olympics.

Hotels were so packed, Wilcox said, that he had to put up two competitors at his home.

But despite the week's festive atmosphere, competing officers still must go by the book. They can be disqualified, fined or even put on probation for roughhousing, cheating or even swearing. Judges can call for a hearing on the smallest infraction. A judge once yanked a gold medal from a foulmouthed power lifter on his way out of the ring.

"John McEnroe wouldn't even get past the judges," said Bob Burke, a member of the board of directors of the California Police Athletic Federation, which oversees the games.

Incentive to Officers

Unseemly behavior, organizers say, would defeat the purpose of the games, which were founded in 1967 as an incentive for police officers to keep in shape but have continued as a means of generating good will.

"These are mainly people who get in the paper for shooting someone," Burke said. "We want to show them in a positive light."

As in the conventional Olympics, the top three competitors in each category win gold, silver or bronze medals. But in the police version, competitors who place fourth and fifth also take home medals--and the thrill of victory.

"It hurts so good," said Jim Struck, an Oxnard police officer who last year won gold medals in the light-heavyweight boxing and karate divisions. To make sure he gets to repeat the experience, Struck said he has been working out two hours daily on a punching bag and in the ring.

Other competitors have been as earnest. Take Sgt. Easie Williams, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective who coaches the largest boxing team in the competition. He has been pitting his 10 charges against each other in 12 to 15 rounds a week--that on top of a running regime of two to three miles daily, plus weightlifting.

"These guys aren't fooling around," Wilcox said. "It's fierce competition."

World-Class Athletes

In fact, some competitors such as George Lopez, who will box in the 156-pound weight class Wednesday and Friday, are world-class athletes.

A 29-year-old community relations officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, Lopez fought for Argentina in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, where he was defeated by Ray Downey, the Canadian boxer who went on to win a bronze medal.

"He's got a good, crisp jab," said Larry Moore, who coaches Lopez as the Police Department's athletic director.

Competitors will begin arriving Sunday, although the action does not begin until 8 a.m. the next day, with the triathlon through Oxnard State Beach behind the Embassy Suites Hotel, headquarters for the games. Admission to all events is free.

The competitive roster includes such Olympian staples as tennis, rowing, track and field, and equestrian events. Many contests, however, are tailored to the talents of police officers--arm-wrestling, pistol shooting and contests with police dogs. Such events as surfing, water-skiing and scuba highlight the "California" in the competition's name.

Organizers expect the boxing matches, which begin at 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, to attract the widest following.

Boxing Fans

On one night alone in 1985, boxing attracted more than 2,000 fans, the auditorium's capacity. To catch any overflow this year, organizers plan to pipe fights via cable television into two adjacent conference rooms.

It is that sort of attention to detail that won Oxnard the 1989 bid over two other cities. Organizers said they were impressed by the welcome they received in 1985. At the time, Oxnard was the smallest city to have hosted the California games.

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