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Building bridges

Posted: June 8th, 2018 | News, Top Story | No Comments

Albert H. Fulcher | Editor

Chula Vista pins first openly gay African American police captain

With more than 26 years under his belt, Phillip Collum mastered the many technical, strategic, communication and leadership skills of being a police officer. Starting out in college part-time as a community service officer while going to college in Santa Cruz, Collum rose through the ranks and specialties of the profession, coming to Chula Vista in 1994. On April 27, Collum became the first African-American openly gay police captain in the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD).

At the pinning ceremony, accompanied by CVPD Chief of Police Roxana Kennedy, his husband William Lopez pinned his badge promoting him to the rank of captain.

Captain Phillip Collum, Chula Vista Police Department (Courtesy photo)

Beginning in Chula Vista as a patrol officer, Collum worked his way through several divisions of the CVPD including field training, gang suppression, field patrol, detective, communications and technology. As his experience grew, he spent more than a decade as a supervisor and commander, and in 2017, became acting captain overseeing many of these professional departments. Throughout his journey, he has excelled in expanding his education, his participation in the community as well as received numerous awards and commendations for his professionalism and dedication.

As a gay African-American, Collum said he has a deep appreciation and personal value for is bridging connections between the police department, its officers, and the stakeholders and organizations within the community. Especially the underrepresented.

“One of my personal missions when I became a captain in an acting capacity [was that] I really wanted to reach out to those in the community that really don’t have a good relationship with the police department,” Collum said. “Many [people] in those communities may not feel comfortable reaching out to the police department, or an officer when they need something, or need help.”

Over the months, Collum attended community meetings in an effort to start building a bridge to the underrepresented communities. Part of the process included a youth LGBT safe zone in Chula Vista. He said even though all of this outreach is job related, he loves it and receives personal satisfaction in helping people feel comfortable interacting with the police when they need help.

“We are trying to figure out a way that the police department can come and talk to the youth and their families about school safety, safety in general and making people comfortable about our police department, and the perception of the LGBT community,” Collum said. “And the reality that there really is no perception [within the CVPD] other than the same perception of anyone else in the community. Everyone is just part of the community that needs our help.”

(l to r) Chula Vista Police Department Captain Phillip Collum, Chief of Police Roxana Kennedy and Collum’s husband William Lopez at the pinning ceremony on April 27. (Photo courtesy of CVPD)

This is a far cry from the college student who just needed a part-time job to get through college. Applying for a dispatcher position, he was hired for a full-time position that he couldn’t take. But serving as a community service officer solidified a career he never sought.

“I learned very quickly on the job some things that really drove me into this career,” Collum said. “I loved talking to different people all the time, being out and about in different places and situations and the human interactions is what really drove me into law enforcement. And to be honest, there was the excitement of the job as well. The whole fictional idea of cops and robbers and chasing bad guys over fences in the middle of the night. But that sense of talking and connecting with people and helping people when I can has never left me.”

Last year Collum was fortunate to be selected as an acting captain by Chief of Police Roxana Kennedy.

“She’s a true trailblazer, the first female chief here at the department and she has done incredible work here in fostering women in law enforcement,” Collum said. “I had come out of a previous assignment and became the captain of the Support of Operations Division. In June, I take over the Detective Division. The best people in law enforcement work at this police department. The amount of work, the efficiency of their work in this organization is far better than any other agency that I am familiar with or had the opportunity to work with, bar none. We do far more, with far less people in this organization.”

Along with his devotion to police enforcement, Collum also has a love for photography that began in high school. His passion for the art moved him towards weddings and other events, but as opportunities arose, he moved towards commercial photography. Through a friend, shooting commercial photography for a restaurant, he met his husband, William Lopez.

“There were some accidental text messages sent, so that’s where our communicating began, so we began talking, then dating and now we are married,” Collum said. They created a home for themselves in La Mesa.

Just as the little boy who never dreamed of being a police officer when he grew up, for many years, Collum never identified himself as homosexual.

“I wasn’t really dating women to any serious degree ever, but I never gave myself the chance to really self-reflect and even consider the option that I was homosexual. It wasn’t even in my realm of conscience thought,” Collum said.

It was a conversation with a friend that made him delve into his own sexuality. Even then, he didn’t believe that he was gay.

“I didn’t consider it at the time,” Collum said. “But I’ve been really blessed that I’ve been raised by a loving and caring family in such a way that I have an independent sense of thought. I was objective enough and independent enough to hear that question, even at that moment denying it, truthfully knowing that could not be the case”

Over the following weeks and months, Collum realized he could not honestly say that he wasn’t gay. “I realized that I actually don’t know whether the answer is yes or no. I thought, ‘that’s pretty important in my life, I should probably figure that out,’” he said.

That was a major turning point for Collum. He started meeting gay people, got more familiar with the gay community, and began to talk to the people he loved and trusted.

“It became pretty clear to me, going back through my whole life I remember circumstances as a young, young boy, the reality is that I had been attracted to the same sex all of my life and just never really recognized it,” Collum said.

He said once he acknowledged that, there was a period of about three years in the police department that he chose to conceal it and be in the closet. When asked about his life in daily conversations about marriage, girlfriends and relationships, he learned to skirt around the issue.

“But I was also raised in a way, sometimes to a fault, that I’m an honest person,” he said. “I couldn’t handle the dishonesty. At the same time, I made no pronouncement that I was gay.”

At one point, Collum told his partner on the Gang Suppression Unit, the closest relationship he had in the police department at that time.

“He responded positively, firmly supportive and told me he thought as much, but wasn’t sure,” Collum said. “By then I had already come out to my family, again, an incredible loving and supportive family in every way. I’ve been very fortunate than other people in that respect.”

From that point on, Collum never denied it, but also didn’t start wearing flags. If they asked if he was in a relationship, he’d say yes, and say it was his boyfriend. If people didn’t ask, he didn’t bring it up. “Being gay, to me, has never been the defining trait of my life. I am the defining trait of my life and those that surround me define my life,” he said.

It became much more commonly known throughout the police department when Collum started playing a role in the gay pride parades. At the time, there were a couple of women officers that were lesbians at the police department. A few years before he became involved, they started taking a small contingent to the pride parade.

“The year that I got involved, we took a much larger contingent,” Collum said. “Subsequent to that, I started taking the lead in leading our contingent, so then it became pretty obvious to people. Now, if there is anyone in this department that does not know about my sexual orientation, I would be shocked. At my age, my current level, and plus I have pictures of my husband all over my office. Most of the people here, especially those that I work with on a daily basis, have known my husband for years and love him just like anybody else.”

— Albert Fulcher can be reached at albert@sdcnn.com.

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