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Auburn police officer retiring after more than 30-year career in law enforcement

Lt. Scott Burns recalls some of the fun, intense moments on the job
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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In just a few short days, Lt. Scott Burns will say goodbye to his second family. As he packs up his belongings, he’ll put in a framed picture that captures one of the most memorable experiences of his 30-plus year career in law enforcement. He’ll walk out the door of the Auburn Police Department with memories that range from the light-hearted to others where he remembers the time when an alert dispatcher saved his life. Burns, a 52-year-old Foresthill resident, is officially retiring from the Auburn Police Department Thursday. Burns said his desire to start a law enforcement career came about when he developed a close relationship with the Rio Vista police officer who investigated a tragic death in Burns’ family. Burns said he is private about the personal tragedy but said he will never forget his then mentor, Dean Dillon. “He took me under his wing,” Burns said. As a result of Dillon’s encouragement, Burns joined the Rio Vista Police Department as a cadet and served between the ages of 15 and 17. He then graduated with a degree from Sierra College and put himself through the police academy. Shortly after graduating from the academy, in February 1978 he took a job as a reserve officer at the Auburn Police Department. He has remained at the department his entire career and has risen through the ranks from patrolman to detective and finally lieutenant in 2006. In early 1999, Burns was selected to attend the FBI academy in Virginia – an honor less than 1 percent of police officers nationwide receive. He said the three months of classes and physical tests was one of the best experiences of his life. “Graduating from the FBI Academy was the crowning jewel of my career,” Burns said. A snapshot of Burns accepting his diploma from the then head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, is displayed on one of his office shelves. While attending the FBI is one of the greatest memories of his career, Burns said he’ll never forget one of the most intense. In 1986 he was assigned as a detective, but was asked to fill in for a few graveyard shifts one week. It was about 5 a.m. when he stopped a car carrying three passengers for a speed violation. As Burns got out of his car and started to approach the other vehicle, the driver hopped out and said, “This is a rental.” “Right away, something made the hair on my neck stand up,” Burns said. As Burns was backing away with his hand on his gun, the dispatcher’s voice came over and said it was a stolen vehicle. He said he contained the three men by gunpoint until his backup arrived. Burns later found out the three men in the car were parolees from Oregon and had a loaded 9mm handgun in the back seat. One of the men told Burns the plan was to get him to approach the driver’s side of the car when one of the other men would shoot him from the back seat leaving them time to escape. Burns said had it not been for the dispatcher running the plates and for trusting his own instincts, the story could have had a more serious end. “I believe to this day that she saved my life,” Burns said. Today, Burns said he is looking forward to retirement life. A self-described amateur history buff, Burns said since the age of 8 he has loved to learn about the past, especially events surrounding World War II and the Korean War. “It’s the way I relax,” Burns said. A former Auburn Prisoner of War camp has been one of his subjects of study. “It’s very interesting to me because it’s a little piece of local World War II history,” Burns said. He said he plans to read more of what interests him and also signed up as a Placer County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue volunteer. He said he also loves to write and has had an article about officer safety published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin magazine. But first on the agenda is trip to the coast with his wife, Bonnie, to have some time to “decompress,” he said. For now, during the final days of his career, Burns said he is reflecting on his time at a “highly professional” yet family-like organization. “Because of the family-oriented nature of this department, it’s been like a second family,” Burns said. Long-time co-worker and friend Sgt. Dale Hutchins said the humor level “will take a dip” when Burns leaves the office. Hutchins said he has worked alongside Burns for 18 years. He said he not only considers the lieutenant a family friend, but also a good source of advice and strong advocate for Auburn. “He has always been on the side of the city and for the people of the city,” Hutchins said. “He’s always made sure to give them the best service they could get.” In a final reflection, Burns said he is going to a miss a job he has never regretted doing. “I wouldn’t trade this career for anything,” Burns said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same thing.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.