Walking the best in downtown San Mateo is unlike any other assignment in that city's police department. There are days when it is every bit as much public relations as police work.
It is why the job seems to suit 8-year-veteran Colby Darrah just fine. It's the type of police officer he's always wanted to be.
"I want people to feel completely comfortable to ask me questions, spout off their problems and try to work with them to find a long-term solution to the problems they are having," Darrah said.
In his effort to be all those things to his community, Darrah isn't afraid to try out new techniques when he learns them. A couple of months ago, though, Darrah discovered that something old was just what he was looking for.
His love of music.
"It’s always been a part of my life," Darrah said. Growing up in Redding, his parents ran their own business and on weekends Darrah would accompany his father on work calls. "Sometimes we'd have a long drive, windows down, singing country music."
Darrah continued singing as a teenager as a member of groups, even winning a few competitions. When his focus turned to a career in law enforcement and raising a family, however, music faded somewhat into the background. But not completely.
"Walking the beat I hum or whistle or sometimes I sing," Darrah said. "I can't help it."
What Darrah did one night in November, however, brought music back in a whole new way. He spotted a street musician, a regular in downtown San Mateo, and walked up to him.
"I asked if I could play his guitar. He said 'sure.' The rest is history," Darrah said.
That's because Darrah's partner snuck a video of the performance and placed it on social media. "It was posted. And shared. And shared. And shared," Darrah said. By now, he says, it seems as if everyone in town has seen it.
It's become just the ice breaker Darrah says he been looking for. People smile when they see him play and Darrah feels it makes him much more approachable and less threatening.
He now plans to regularly break out into song and, perhaps, break down some barriers in the process.
"I never thought doing it that one time would have such an impact."