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For family, fresh starts

Costa Mesa police veterans of about 30 years apiece take ‘golden handshakes’ to spend more time with loved ones and to try other endeavors.

September 02, 2009|By Joseph Serna

When Bob Phillips was a young Boy Scout on a field trip to the old Costa Mesa police station on Ford Road, he had an epiphany.

Officers asked for a volunteer to go into the single jail cell in the station, and Phillips raised his hand. When the door slammed shut in front of him and he peered out at his friends, he thought to himself, “I’d rather be on the other side looking in than on this side looking out,” he said.

From that day on, he wanted to be a police officer.

Now Phillips, raised in Costa Mesa since he was 2, is saying farewell to the department after 30 years on the force. He’s one of a few veteran officers taking the “golden handshake” the city is offering for longtime police to save money on the budget and retiring as a sergeant today. He said with a laugh that his wife has a laundry list of things at home he’ll be getting to work on as soon as he’s done.

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Another officer leaving is Lt. Clay Epperson, a 29-year veteran who turned in his badge at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“I have two young boys, so it’ll allow me to spend some more time with them, my family and my wife,” Epperson said. “It’ll give me more time to surf.”

The two men were cadets together, and each worked on some of the most interesting cases to come through Costa Mesa. Both still live in the city.

An image burned into Epperson’s memory is one day as a cadet when he walked into the building from the rear, where employees enter, and saw a naked man covered in dried blood sitting at his desk. Officers were collecting dry blood samples from him, Epperson said.

Apparently, the man had killed his family, then drove into Costa Mesa, stopped at a phone booth, called police and confessed, and then waited to be arrested.

“I felt like that was a very interesting beginning,” Epperson said.

Like Epperson, Phillips said he thoroughly enjoyed his career but is also ready to move on.

“At some point in your life in law enforcement, you get tired of watching how other people are living their lives. I’m just going to get out of the game and start something else,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m retiring from the people I work with, but I’ll leave the business with others.”

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