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October 29, 2013

Questions arise over Lor’s time with Merced Police

Questions have been raised about Merced mayoral candidate Noah Lor, and whether he owes the city for a short time he was trained to be a police officer.

As the mayoral campaign comes down to the wire, hopeful Noah Lor continues to tout his time of service with the Merced Police Department.

However, incumbent Stan Thurston said Lor has been misleading voters about how long he was a sworn officer.

In an employment contract Lor signed with Merced police in 2002, the city agreed to pay the $29,078 in training expenses and salary to Lor, assuming he worked for at least three years as a patrolman.

Prior to his officer training, Lor served as a Merced police community aide from 1993 to 2002, according to city records. He started his police training in September 2002 and joined the force in March 2003, only to resign less than five months later in August.

Though the contract stated he would be on the hook to pay back his training expenses and salary at a prorated amount, which would have been $24,924 for working less than a year, the city decided to ask Lor for $3,026.

Lor paid that amount after the city asked for it in 2004, according to City Attorney Greg Diaz. The amount included what the city paid for a background check, textbooks and equipment for police training.

“He fulfilled the obligations that the city asked him to do,” Diaz said.

The remaining $23,784 in the contract was the salary paid to Lor during his 22-week training. Diaz said the contract written in 2002 may have been “decent and OK law at the time,” but California’s labor laws changed in the interim, such that the city could not ask Lor to pay back his wages.

Lor repaid the $3,026 to the city in 2004, three years before he was first elected to the City Council.

“He wasn’t on the council, he wasn’t running for office,” Diaz said. “We wouldn’t have asked for any more of him than was asked of anyone else in the same situation.”

Lor, who earned a master’s in social work before entering the academy, said he decided to leave the police force when a clinician job opened up at the Merced County Department of Mental Health, where he works now. Prior to his training, he wasn’t able to find employment in that field.

“When I got the opportunity to move into the field where I have a greater impact, that’s when I made my decision,” he said.

The 49-year-old candidate said he felt he could help more people by treating sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and at-risk young people, for example, as a clinician rather than as a policeman.

He sees no problem with touting his time working for the Police Department no matter its length. In the “About Noah Lor” section of his website, there is a picture of Lor in uniform next to a police cruiser.

Lor dismissed any negative feelings some may have about the amount of money he paid back to the city. “The city billed me for it, and I paid in full,” he said.

Thurston, the incumbent, said he trusts the city attorney’s opinion on Lor’s wages. “If he says it was legally improper, if you will, to try to recoup salary then I trust his word,” Thurston said. Still, Thurston believes Lor is being disingenuous about his time with the Police Department.

“The representation is out there that he was a sworn police officer for a number of years, when it really was only 41/2 months,” he said. “If he wants to do that, fine. I wish the public knew the truth.”

Councilman Tony Dossetti, who was Merced’s chief of police from 1999 to 2005, said he was involved in Lor’s hiring but not the contract decisions.

Dossetti said it was not uncommon for trainees to quit during training, or shortly after leaving the academy, but it was frustrating when they did. “When he resigned, I can remember that I was really upset about it, because he wasn’t a police officer all that long,” Dossetti said, adding he doesn’t hold any animosity toward Lor. “Being a policeman isn’t for everybody, and people have to make those choices.”

Dossetti noted that Lor worked several years with the Police Department, but only briefly as a sworn officer.

“He was a patrol officer,” Dossetti said, “but not for very long.”

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