SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Undersheriff Jim Cooke will wrap up more than three decades of a colorful career in law enforcement Dec. 2, his last day on the job.
He looks forward to spending more time with his wife Joyce, two daughters and four grandkids.
Assistant Sheriff Ed Prendergast will step into the undersheriff position after Cooke retires.
“He’s so immediately qualified, he already knows the job,” Cooke said.
Cooke has served at every possible rank in the organization, and said that all of his assignments were good, and had different responsibilities, such as working S.W.A.T. and homicide.
He began his career as a Deputy Sheriff in 1980, and in 2009 was appointed Undersheriff to Sheriff Bill Gore.
The Undersheriff assumes the responsibility of the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department.
“To serve at that level and have the ability to influence the organization has been very rewarding,” Cooke said.
He said the biggest challenge Prendergast faces in assuming the new position is the law enforcement realignment legislation recently passed by the state.
Cooke said the county’s jail system has the largest budget and most employees within the sheriff’s department’s agencies, and is growing at the fastest pace.
Some of his Cooke’s career highlights include supervising investigators on the homicide task force in 1991.
The task force investigated and made arrests in the East County murders of prostitutes and transients.
Cooke was also a sergeant and one of the detectives in the high profile murder-suicide Ian Spiro case that shocked the tree-lined sprawling homes community of Rancho Santa Fe.
“When our patrol arrived on the scene they found all the deceased in their bedrooms,” he said.
He remembered their names.
“Gail. Adam. Sara. Dina,” he said.
It took nearly a week to process the crime scene — the entire house, he said.
“Mr. Spiro was not present in the house, and immediately he becomes the focus of the investigation,” he said.
That included whether or not he may have been the perpetrator or had been kidnapped, he said.
As the case developed, Spiro’s background surfaced with espionage contacts in the Middle East and suspicions of involvement in the CIA, he said.
But Spiro was found slumped over dead in his vehicle in the Anza Borrego desert days after his family’s murder.
“At the end of the day, he was despondent over financial issues. He was in the country on a visa that had expired. Everything led to the fact that he was despondent and had taken his own life,” he said.
Cooke also remembers a bank robbery in Solana Beach a few years after the Spiro case stirred up the county, when Deputy Terry Lawson pursued a suspect who had a machine gun, and returned fire on him, killing the suspect.
He said it was amazing thing, and called Lawson heroic.
“It was quite an impressive sight to see a sheriff’s car riddled with bullets,” he said.
After 31 years on the job, his experience spans from the days where “you had a briefing sheet,” he said, to today’s technologically advanced equipment that includes cars with computers.
“We can use predictive analysis tools now. We can spot crime trends, hot spots and have real-time data now,” he said.
When the deputies of 2011 start their shifts, they have a clear picture of what’s transpiring in an around their area of responsibility, he said.
“What’s changed dramatically is technology,” he said.
But the one thing that hasn’t changed, he added, is the core mission of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.