Jewish chief downplays Sunnyvale swastika incident

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A swastika scrawled on a restroom wall at the Sunnyvale Public Safety Department might have been aimed at the new chief, who is Jewish.

But Irwin Bakin, who took over the job Oct. 4, brushed aside the drawing, which was discovered on Tuesday of last week.

Instead, he is focusing on what he said is a "far more significant" incident that took place the week before at Columbia Middle School: Racist graffiti was found on the school walls.

"As far as I'm concerned, that is very significant," he said. "We put neighborhood resources officers on campus. [Students and teachers] were very frightened that [the perpetrators] would follow through on their threats."

Larry Curb, Columbia's principal, said school officials covered up the graffiti before most students saw it.

"This particular type of vandalism was a first here," Curb said. "It looked like one person who was pretty angry."

Meanwhile, the swastika found in the Public Safety Department restroom was "the work of some moron," Bakin surmised.

He added, "I couldn't imagine it was aimed at me because I don't think anyone knew I'm Jewish."

A swastika and two SS-style lightning bolts were drawn in ballpoint pen on a tile in a restroom stall.

According to public information officer Capt. Chuck Eaneff, the restroom, although in a secured area, is used by both employees and the public.

"I do not think we should become too alarmed," said Jessica Ravitz, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific region office in San Francisco.

"It didn't follow on the heels of anything else, like threatening phone calls, for instance. There's really no way of telling whether it was someone from the outside or the inside."

Nevertheless, the department is investigating the incident aggressively and has appointed the head of the homicide division to spearhead the effort.

Sunnyvale's police force doesn't have a hate-crimes division, Ravitz said.

Bakin, 51, began a 29-year career in law enforcement in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. He was the assistant police chief in Phoenix, Ariz., when Sunnyvale hired him to replace Regan Williams, who retired in May.

The Sunnyvale Public Safety Department encompasses the fire and police departments, animal control services and emergency preparedness offices. About 300 staff members work in the building.

Sunnyvale has a much lower crime rate than surrounding areas, a public safety report indicated. The town just passed a "civility law" requiring members of the city council to be polite to one another.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.