Jarrod Berguan

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Phil Willon
December 9, 2015

As police officers kicked open doors in the Inland Regional Center in the search for the armed assailants who had just massacred 14 county employees, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan was outside scanning the terrain for a safe place to coordinate the sweeping emergency response.

He found it a block away — an abandoned house with a dirt yard and boarded-up windows, one of many pocking the streets of this hollowed-out city. Within minutes, police, fire and other emergency agency commanders huddled inside, out of gunshot range.

Officials continue to scour the backgrounds of the shooters who killed 14 people and injured 21 last week in San Bernardino.

It was a no-nonsense move by a city police chief who has been praised for his cool-headed response in the chaotic aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11.

When standing before television news cameras, Burguan’s cleanly shaven crown and thick, linebacker frame punctuated his blunt, straightforward accounts of the manhunt and the rapidly developing investigation.

“He was quite effective in giving out whatever information he could, calming the public and discouraging any other lunatics from committing acts of backlash,” said Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer and terrorism expert teaching at Cal State San Bernardino. “The response, of all the agencies, was a national model for first responder actions regarding terrorist attacks.”

Burguan knew that the nation was watching, and that San Bernardino was on edge. He held three news conferences on the day of the attack. He didn’t dodge questions but also knew some leads could not be made public.

“I believe in transparency,” Burguan, 45, said. “My philosophy has always been that if I can tell you, I’m going to tell you. And if I can’t tell you, I’m going to say I can’t tell you.”

Burguan also took to Twitter to provide instant updates and knock down rumors: “Suspects are down, one officer wounded. Details still unfolding,” he tweeted shortly after the assailants were killed in a gun battle with police.

On Friday, he was at home and sending out a series of tweets explaining why a UPS station was evacuated after a delivery driver spotted a package addressed to one of the killers. “Item was safe, posed no threat.” Moments later, he watched, amazed, as his tweet popped up on a television news broadcast.

“The power of social media,” Burguan said.

Burguan, named chief two years ago after two decades as a San Bernardino officer, is uneasy with the attention, sensitive to the lives lost and victims maimed in the terrorist attack and the long list of agencies, including the FBI and San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, involved in the case.

His pride, however, is difficult to hide.

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