By Liz Harman
A San Diego police captain who uses a graduate degree to help make San Diego a safer place and has dedicated his life to breaking down ethnic and racial stereotypes will be honored by the University of San Diego May 12.
San Diego Police Capt. Adolfo Gonzales is the honoree from USD's School of Education at this year's Author E. Hughes Career Achievement Awards, named after the school's former president. Four other outstanding graduates will also be honored at a black-tie gala.
Gonzales, who earned a doctorate in leadership science at USD in 1996, has created gang suppression and narcotics teams. He also started a program that removed as many as two or three guns off the street each night. He also partnered with the FBI to beef up street patrols and prevent further gang-related deaths after San Diego was hit with a record 10 homicides in one month, and worked with street gang units and internal affairs.
"We are proud of these awardees not only for the distinction they have achieved in their professional fields, but also because their personal lives exemplify the values the University supports," says USD president Alice B. Hayes. "They are using the knowledge and skills gained at USD to make the world a better place."
As a young man in 1972, with long hair and a low-rider Monte Carlo, Gonzales was often mistaken for a gang member. He once was pulled over in Los Angeles, where police searched his car. Another time, a San Diego Sheriff's Department deputy thought his car matched that of a bank robber.
But those errors did not stop him from joining the police department.
"I didn't like the way the police were treating me and my friends," says Gonzales, "but I knew if I wanted to change the system I had to work from inside."
In 1991, while a sergeant, Gonzales began taking night and weekend classes at USD. In the nearly six years it took to earn his doctorate, Gonzales was promoted to lieutenant and became commander of the narcotics section and street gang unit.
"I had to respond every time there was a gang incident. Sometimes I'd go to the library, find a nice, quiet place to study and my pager would go off, so I learned to study every opportunity I had," Gonzales recalls. "Sometimes I read while pushing the cart in the grocery store, sat in the car working on my laptop while my wife went into Costco or took notes on the backs of napkins if ideas for a paper came to me while I was at a restaurant."
While moving up the ladder at work, Gonzales learned about leadership at USD. He never became the kind of boss who tells subordinates what to do, but rather someone who teams with his staff to accomplish goals.
"When I started in the department I didn't know anyone above my sergeant," says Gonzales, who became a captain in 1997. "As a captain, I encourage communication _from the bottom up, sideways and from the top down."
Lt. Vickey Binkerd says Gonzales is the best supervisor for whom she has ever worked.
"He's an excellent role model, which is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader," Binkerd says. "He has high expectations of himself and lives up to them, works long hours, is attentive to our needs, both in our work and our personal lives, and is a great mentor."
Gonzales also shares what he has learned. He teaches an introductory criminal justice course at Mount Miguel High School, lectures on gang awareness and crowd control at Southwestern College, and teaches self-defense at Mira-mar College.
And he never forgot his original quest for racial harmony, frequently returning to USD and speaking to education students about the dangers of fostering stereotypes.
"Adolfo taught people not to think of others collectively but individually," says Professor Patricia Lowry, who retired from the School of Education in 1998. "He encouraged them to communicate with their neighbors and see that people are more alike than different. That was his main message."
The other Hughes Award recipients are: Nancy Ely-Raphel, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia; Robert Tully Atwood, who recently retired as a top executive of Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp., one of the nation's largest financial providers; Jaynelle F. Stichler, a nurse executive and the principal of the Health Care Consulting Division at Stichler Design; and Shelly Foco Mecum, whose first book, God's Photo Album: How We Looked for God and Saved Our School, was just published.