James Rex Jensen Jr.’s parents tried to talk him out of police work, but being a cop was more than just a job for him.
Regarded by fellow police officers as a top notch patrolman with a highly promising career, Jensen was remembered by Oxnard residents as a tireless community supporter who helped energize Neighborhood Watch programs, taught youth sports and labored hard on his own time to make Oxnard a better place to live.
Jensen, 30, died March 13 after he was accidentally shot by a fellow officer during an early morning drug raid at an Oxnard condominium complex.
“This is a terrible loss for the city because this is a police officer who didn’t view being a police officer as just a job,” said John Branthoover, a 52-year-old Oxnard resident who helped found the city’s Neighborhood Watch program six years ago and had worked with Jensen.
“He was a guy who was trying to make the city a safer and more family-friendly place. He was really involved and really cared about the community. He tried to make a difference.”
Jensen joined the Oxnard Police Department in April 1992 after working for three years as a deputy in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. Respected by both his peers and top brass, the young patrolman was promoted to the special weapons and tactics – SWAT – team in July 1995.
“He was a very open person. He was very well-liked. He was a dedicated officer,” said Police Chief Harold Hurtt. “He was a professional in every way.” Jensen is the second Oxnard police officer killed in the line-of-duty since 1993.
Married and the father of two daughters, Lindsay, 5, and Katie, 3, Jensen lived in a household that revolved around law enforcement: His wife, Jennifer, works at Todd Road Jail for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department as does her mother, sheriff’s officials said.
Jensen developed an interest in law enforcement while serving in the Marine Corps for four years as a military police officer, his parents said in telephone interviews. Jensen was stationed both in Okinawa, Japan, and at Camp Pendleton after graduating from high school in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1983.
Reached at her home in Price, Utah, Jensen’s mother said she tried to persuade her only son not to become a police officer after he left the Marines. But he was set on the career.
“I didn’t want him to go into police work,” said Shirley Jensen, 70, a retired nurse. “I didn’t like it but then again, mothers don’t have much say.” Jensen’s father, Rex, said in a separate interview that he too had tried to stop his son from becoming a police officer.
Shirley Jensen said her son was well aware of the risks involved with the job he loved but rarely discussed them with her.
“He didn’t talk much about it with me cause he knew I was a worrywart,” she said. Jensen’s mother and friends said Jensen was a devoted father who enjoyed spending free time with his family.
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Jensen was active in school activities and played sports while attending East High School, his mother said. “He was a busy guy, even when he was little,” Shirley Jensen said. “He thought he could never be doing too much.”
Jensen took his can-do attitude to Ventura County, where he coached Little League baseball and played second base on the police force’s “Blue Wave” softball team in addition to many other activities.
After working the late shift the Friday night before his death, Jensen went to the baseball diamond Saturday morning to help out during an all-day baseball camp for 60 Oxnard youngsters.
“He loved working with kids,” said Ralph Sanchez, program coordinator for the Police Activities league, which sponsored the baseball clinic. “He felt this was a way for him, as an officer, to interface with kids in a different environment.”
Sanchez, who also coaches the Police Department’s softball team, called Jensen an excellent athlete whose fierce professionalism showed in every aspect of his life.
“Jim was a very dedicated person,” Sanchez said. “Whenever he came to practice, he was usually the first one there and the last to leave. He rarely missed practice or games, although it wasn’t easy with the demands of his job.”
Branthoover said many Oxnard residents knew Jensen because of his community involvement and his efforts to encourage residents to establish Neighborhood Watch programs.
“He was one of those officers who from the very beginning thought that community involvement with the Police Department was a great idea,” Branthoover said. “In the early days, some of the officers weren’t that enthusiastic about citizens appearing on the streets at night.”
Branthoover recalled encountering Jensen on the beat including one night when Branthoover was painting over a graffiti-covered wall in his neighborhood.
“He would creep up with his flashlight and say, ‘Oh, it’s you again,’ Branthoover said. “We would stop and talk for a while.”
Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez whose wife, Irma, was injured during the 1993 shootings that killed another Oxnard police officer called the accidental shooting death of Jensen a “huge loss.”
“I think it is a real, real tragedy,” Lopez said. “He was the type of police officer that everyone wants to have.”
Jensen had been a member of PORAC since August 21, 1992.
A trust fund has been set up for the Jensen family. Contributions can be sent to: The Oxnard Police Officers Assn., Channel Island National Bank, 155 South A Street Oxnard, CA 93030.