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Experience pays for Gurden

In 22 years with the Merced Police Department, Jim Gurden has fulfilled many key roles and is about to move into his most demanding one yet. As the newest of six lieutenants on the force, he will oversee the training of new officers, recruiting of future officers and the Specialized Weapons and Tactics unit.

Gurden, 46, replaces Floyd Higdon who became one of three commanders Jan. 28. Gurden has been a patrolman, Street Crimes Unit officer and later a supervisor, field training officer, corporal, SWAT team leader, investigations and administrative sergeant.

"I've been fortunate I've been able to move into various specialized functions as I gained more training," Gurden said. "It has helped me get a better vision of police work and working with the community."

In nearly two-dozen years wearing a badge in Merced, Gurden said no single incident stands out. He joined the SWAT team in 1987 and said he has been on hundreds of high-risk missions. All of these incidents were resolved successfully without major injuries or deaths to officers or suspects.

With SWAT, it's not only the physical aspects but the mental ones, too. A SWAT member needs to be able to react quickly but control one's emotions and be "pretty even-keeled."

"Your office is your car, the street," Gurden said. "At any given moment, you can run into a high-risk situation, at the quietest time of the night. You can't let emotions get the best of you."

As a lieutenant now working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Gurden said he has a real good mix of veteran and young officers with him. He said over the years he has had an opportunity to supervise a "great bunch of guys" with great work ethics, which has made his job easier.

"The majority of the 22 years I've been a supervisor of some sort," Gurden said. "They made me look good and we all prospered. I was very fortunate the city took a chance on me and sent me to the academy and gave me an opportunity to excel in police work."

Cmdr. Jeff Schindler, who also commanded the SWAT team, said Gurden will do an excellent job in the lieutenant's position.

"He has a lot of professionalism, is highly-respected and well-liked by officers. In every facet of the department, he has done an extremely good job," Schindler said.

Gurden received his bachelor's degree Dec. 16, 2007, in criminal justice management from Union Institute and University in Sacramento. He wrote a 40-page capstone on the history and future of SWAT units.

He credits Schindler and his wife of 27 years, Theresa, with pushing him to attain his long-range goals. Gurden and his wife have four children from 12 to 24 years of age and one 3-year-old grandchild.

"She supported me and continues to support me. She has been a big help," Gurden said.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Gurden's father was in the U.S. Air Force and retired from the service in 1973 from Great Falls, Mont. He had been stationed at Castle Air Force Base before the Montana assignment.

With his father's example, Gurden said he also wanted to do something for his country but didn't want to move his family all over the world with different assignments. Law enforcement seemed to be a natural and he has no regrets over the career choice.

Gurden's brother-in-law, Danny McDonald, also gets credit for influencing his career move, taking him on ride-alongs. Gurden also became part of the department's Explorer Scout program.

He served two years on the department's first Street Crimes Unit, formed in 1988 by then-Chief Pat Lunney. The predecessor of today's Gang Violence Suppression Unit, the street crimes group responded to "felony in progress" calls, property crimes and street-level narcotics work.

About this time, Gurden became interested in training new officers. He became a field training officer for three years and then became a corporal in 1993; his sergeant's stripes were earned 11 years ago. He was the investigations sergeant for five years until moving last year into the administrative realm, which he said helped him get a global perspective on how the department functions.

Outside of work, Gurden's interests include "pretty much anything outdoors." He loves archery, bow hunting and camping, backpacking and fishing with his family.

Gurden's oldest son, Jim Albert, 22, will be leaving in a couple of months for the Washington State Trooper Academy. His great-grandfather was a "bobby" in England. Before police work called, Gurden worked with his father-in-law for five years at a Turlock feed mill.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or