Public Safety

Undersheriff Looks Back on Outstanding Career

Some 31 years ago, when Undersheriff Jim Cooke first joined the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, he was looking for something interesting to do.

“The Sheriff’s Department was not only that but it was an opportunity to do something meaningful,” said Cooke, who will be retiring at the end of this week.

According to Sheriff Bill Gore, Cooke’s career has made a valuable difference not only to the department but to the public.

“Over my law enforcement career, I have worked with many excellent men and women, individuals who are knowledgeable, ethical and extremely dedicated. But I can honestly say I’ve worked with none better than Undersheriff Jim Cooke,” Gore said. “Over the past few years, this department has accomplished some amazing things, all while going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Throughout all of this, Jim has been at the center with a steady hand and a cool head. He is an exceptional leader and exceptional man.”

Cooke said he has enjoyed his career every step of the way, from deputy to sergeant to lieutenant and all the way up to his 2009 appointment to undersheriff. He has worked under four sheriffs, and his assignments have included speaking for the department in the Public Affairs Division, working as a sergeant in the multi-jurisdictional Metropolitan Homicide Task Force, and serving as the commanding officer of the SWAT Team and other Special Enforcement units.

“I enjoyed all of them, every assignment. All had positives and all had their challenges,” Cooke said. “They were all interesting and they all brought value.”

Cooke’s long career saw him involved in many intense and emotionally grueling cases. He was an incident commander in Lakeside during the 2003 wildfires, a Homicide Unit supervisor during many high profile cases, including the Ian Spiro murder-suicide, and the SWAT commander during the Santana and Granite Hills high school shootings.

The shootings occurred within two weeks of each other in 2001. Cooke said the SWAT team had a challenging job, even though the shooters were quickly taken into custody.

“In both cases, initially there were reports of multiple suspects and the real challenge became trying to clear the campus room-by-room,” Cooke said. “You do your best to ensure there is no perpetrator mixed up with the kids.”

Cooke said the case that affected him most in his career was the Vickie Eddington homicide in Jamul in 1987. The 29-year-old mother of three had been bludgeoned by her Navy officer husband of 12 years and then buried in their backyard.

An initial investigation in 1987 had yielded no conclusions, and the case remained unsolved for four years until it was reopened by then-detective Dennis Brugos, now retired, who later led the homicide unit.

At the time, Cooke supervised an investigative team that included Brugos and the District Attorney’s Office. The team methodically laid out a case against the Navy officer, which led to a search warrant and the discovery of Eddington’s body. The Navy officer was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder.

“We felt good that we got justice for her family, but it also haunted me that it took so long to find closure for the family,” Cooke said.

Cooke attributed his career’s success to the Sheriff’s organization, which offers diverse and interesting assignments.

“Being willing to take opportunities and stepping out of your comfort zone broadens your experience level and makes you more marketable for promotions,” said Cooke.

Cooke is also quick to point out the great leadership in the department and the good work of his colleagues who have made him look good. He said that much of what he has to boast about is the work of the great people he has worked alongside or supervised.

“I’m very proud to be a deputy sheriff and am grateful for the opportunities this career has brought my way,” Cooke said.

Yet Cooke is also looking forward to starting his new job as a full-time family man, spending time with his wife Joyce, two adult daughters and four grandchildren. Perhaps, down the road, he may do some volunteer work, but for now he said he just wants to decompress and plan a springtime trip to Great Britain with friends.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact