Jerome Cobert on duty at the Berkeley Marina in 1999.
Jerome Cobert on duty at the Berkeley Marina in 1999.

Q&A: A Jewish former cop whose mother finally came around

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For almost two decades, Jerome Cobert, 56, was a law enforcement officer, working for about 10 years each in the Berkeley Police Department and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. He now runs Cobert Safety Professionals LLC, which offers curricula based on the principles of “Alive at 25,” a National Safety Council program that uses cognitive behavioral approaches geared toward making teens and young adults safer and more responsible drivers.

A proudly identified Jew affiliated with Sonoma County Chabad, Cobert is the president of NorCal Shomrim, a local society of Jewish law enforcement officers. He grew up in Los Angeles and received his associate’s degree from Santa Barbara City College before moving up north to complete his bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Sonoma State University. He and his wife, Yvonne, an elementary school teacher, have two sons — a 24-year-old Marine Corps veteran interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement and a 21-year-old college student studying psychology and music.

J.: Police work is not a career that traditionally has attracted many Jews, and it was not the profession in which you were initially headed. How did you find law enforcement — or how did it find you?

Jerome Cobert: I was doing substitute teaching after college, but I was also volunteering at the local police academy in role-playing exercises. One of the officers said to me, “You really seem to like it. You should do this full time.” So at 31, I started a second career and enrolled in the academy, finishing in the top quarter of my class. My wife supported me while I went through training.

In both Berkeley and Sonoma, you took on special roles. Will you describe them?

In Berkeley, I started out on a special assignment that no one else wanted — at the Berkeley Marina, where there were a lot of auto burglaries and drug and gang activities. I’ve always been interested in community-oriented policing, so I saw this as an opportunity to get paid to schmooze and to help people by getting to know them and establishing relationships.

In Sonoma, I was the school resource officer at Sonoma Valley High School. It was the most emotionally and physically demanding job I’ve had because of the caseload, but I’m a big believer in getting kids the services they need, no matter what it takes, and I worked very closely with social advocates for youth and the local youth diversion program.

So you were kind of like a social worker?

A social worker with a gun. But there were no shootings there under my watch.

You’ve been active in the Jewish community in Sonoma County, at a local synagogue, as well as at the Sonoma JCC. What’s been the reaction when you tell fellow Jews that you worked in law enforcement?

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the response I get is symbolic about how they feel about the police [in light of recent events]. They are surprised. I’m asked, “There are Jewish policemen? What does your mother think?”

Well, what does your mother think?

My mother started out as a very liberal social worker in some tough neighborhoods in Los Angeles. She then became an attorney, like my late father. They were very happy with the “law” part of my job, not so much with the “enforcement.” Over the years, I think my mother has gained an appreciation for what I’ve done.

What is something you’d like people to know about your work in law enforcement?

It’s very easy for people to stand back and make judgments of others, but a lot of my work has involved social work and problem-solving and de-escalation. When I was working in North Berkeley later in my police career, I’d encounter rich people threatening each other over property line encroachment. It was a matter of trying to help Mr. Jones understand where Mr. Smith was coming from, and vice-versa. A lot of police work is trying to get people to calm down.

Robert Nagler Miller
Robert Nagler Miller

Robert Nagler Miller, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University, received his master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. For more than 25 years, he worked as a writer and editor at a variety of nonprofits in the Los Angeles and Bay Areas. In 2016, he and his husband, Dr. Arnold Friedlander, relocated to Chicago. Robert loves schmoozing, noshing, kvetching, Scrabble, reading and NPR.