Meet the Department: APD Detention Facility staffers excel at critical work out of spotlight
The correctional officer raps on the door of the cell.
“Bring your trash out,” Ernesto Cendejas tells the inmate. “Then you’ll get your food.”
Later, Cendejas books a 17-year-old arrested on suspicion of a fatal DUI.
“Take your socks off inside out, do not shake them,” he tells the teen. “Let me see the bottoms of your feet. Wiggle your toes.”
The minor happens to be a Servite High School student playing the part of a drunk driver who is being filmed for an upcoming “Every 15 Minutes” school program. A couple of minutes later, Cendejas puts the teen in a cell and slams the door hard.
Every year, a staff of more than 30 Anaheim PD employees handles an average of some 9,000 people who are booked into the agency’s jail at PD headquarters on Harbor Boulevard – arrestees whose alleged offenses range from not having a driver’s license to murder.
The work they do behind the scenes is conducted in a mostly windowless complex. The jail has 61 housing cells with two beds in each cell, two detox tanks, four safety cells, and nine holding cells.
The jail also has 17 single-bed “pay-to-stay” cells that, for $150 a night, come with a TV and the ability to cook your own food and work out in a small exercise room.
Of course, no one wants to be booked into the APD jail, whose corridor walls are painted with light-blue accents. Many arrestees are on drugs, and some get violent.
Some inmates curse at and even spit on the jailers.
The jailers have seen it all, from the woman who showed up with a goat’s leg stuffed in her bra to the arrestee with dope hidden under the crowns in his mouth.
Syringes, money, jewelry – all have been found in body cavities.
But the bailiffs, correctional officers, and detention facility assistants who work the APD jail 24/7 love their specialized work in law enforcement, saying they learn a lot about human behavior and, at times, feel they’re making a small difference in the lives of people who’ve made bad decisions.
“It’s an amazing group of people that works back here,” said Lt. Matthew Ziemba, who runs the APD’s Detention Facility.
In 2018, APD jail staff members processed 9,314 arrestees. So far in 2019, through Jan. 28, they’ve handled 639.
On a recent weekday, Correctional Officer Randy Wardle was working on a computer inside “The Bullpen,” the central hub that gives jailers eyes and ears in each cell and down each corridor. The jailers can open doors from The Bullpen and talk to inmates.
An alarm goes off, indicating a door was open too long.
Nothing to worry about.
The door is shut.
Wardle was working on making sure the jail was up to health code standards and regulations.
“The reason why I like working down here is I get to meet a bunch of different kinds of people,” says Wardle, an APD correctional officer for five years.
“I like it because I always try to do my best to help people by giving them advice, whether it’s a person with a mental illness or drug addiction — that part is fun for me,” Wardle says. “The other thing is the people I work with. If I wasn’t enjoying coming here, I shouldn’t be here. I love the partnership of working together.”
Brenda Alarcon started as a cadet at the APD and has been working in the jail for 1 ½ years. She says she loves her job’s ever-changing dynamic.
“I’m learning more about the mentally ill, and recently we’ve seen a boom in inmates who are homeless and who are drug addicts,” Alarcon says.
She says it’s interesting and challenging to learn how to talk to such a variety of people.
“I have to be observant and adapt according to the inmates’ behavior,” Alarcon says. “I have to take into account their body language, prior history regarding police encounters, any record of medical history, and assess what type of approach to take with them.”
As for the hazards of the job, Alarcon says she’s been spit on twice – once by an unruly male gang member, and once by a mentally ill woman.
“Ultimately,” Alarcon says of her job, “it comes down to who I work with. At the end of the day, we’re a big family. Everyone has developed a good rapport with each other.”
The APD Detention Facility staff members, under Lt. Ziemba, currently are:
Detention Facility Assistants
The APD jail is authorized for 33 employees, but currently is down two positions – a bailiff and a correctional officer, said Ziemba, a 26-year veteran of the APD who has been in his current position since May 2018.
The APD jail is a state-designated Type 1 facility, which is one level above a detention facility. Detention facilities don’t have the ability to hold inmates for long periods of time and basically handle processing before transferring inmates to the county jail.
A Type 1 facility like the APD’s can hold people longer and have inmate workers and pay-to-stay inmates.
“We’re super fortunate to have this facility, because this place is a vital part of overall operations,” Ziemba said. “The work that goes on back here is just extraordinary. They (jail staff members) deal with the worst of the worst. There’s not one person who you meet back here who comes in and is like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to be here.’”
Several APD jail employees have had their jobs for decades.
Correctional Officer Pam Ingram started as a cadet at the APD 34 years ago and has worked in the jail for 30 years. She conducts the monthly facility inspections to make sure everything is working properly and that the jail is in compliance with county and state requirements. Ingram also handles all the work orders in the facility and works with the facilities section and at times with outside contractors to make sure the jail operates properly and safely for staff and inmates.
“What I like about the job is the many different folks in different walks of life I have dealt with,” says Ingram, who has a degree in criminal justice. “I’ve traveled the world in 30 years without ever leaving Anaheim.”
Ingram says she went into law enforcement to help people.
“Most would not think that you could touch people in a positive way in custody, but you can,” Ingram says. “This is where the spirit of the law comes into play. You take a moment to listen, or you go the extra step when you don’t have to.”
Ingram says she’s had people return with their spouses and kids years later and thank her for speaking with them and taking an interest in them.
“They said it was because of me they turned their lives around,” Ingram says, “and they just wanted to return and tell me in person. This is what my career has been about. You see people at quite possibly the worst time in their lives and you’re able to make an impact, and I’m very proud having been able to have done this.”
Correctional Sgt. Putman has worked the jail for 25 years and in late January is going to the police academy.
Training for jailers is different than what sworn officers go through.
All APD correctional officers have to go to a 10-week, full-stress academy. After they finish that, they attend a Level 3 reserve police academy, a rank that provides them some peace officer status when they’re working under the supervision of a fully sworn officer. After that academy, they are sworn in as reserve police officers.
Males and females are segregated in the APD jail, and when a minor is brought in for processing to be sent home to his or her parents or transported to Juvenile Hall, the jail has to be put on lockdown since adult arrestees aren’t allowed to even see the minor.
The average arrestee is only in jail for a few hours. Cells come with plastic pads, a sheet, a pillow and a blanket, as well as a toilet, metal desk, sink and telephone. Each inmate is allocated three free phone calls. After that, inmates are given pin numbers to make collect calls.
Jailers make hourly checks of the cells in person, and twice a day, they transport inmates to the Central Jail for court proceedings.
“Who gets booked and who stays in jail has changed dramatically over the last few years,” Ziemba says. “We have a lot of people that are here just for processing, which is fingerprints, photographs, maybe a DNA swab. They get their citation or bail out, or are taken to the main jail (in Santa Ana) to be arraigned.”
Ziemba, who became interested in a career in law enforcement while growing up in Arcadia next to a police officer, says he loves his relatively new assignment.
“What’s exciting about this job is that after all these years, something different is always appealing,” says Ziemba, who spent four years as an officer at the Arcadia PD before transferring to Anaheim in 1993.
“I’m at the twilight of my career,” Ziemba adds, “and coming back here to the jail was totally different than anything I’d done before. We have all these state regulations regarding the care and custody of arrestees. We have mandated health inspections from the state and from the county. There are just tons of challenges with this job, even just getting up to speed with understanding and learning the different lingo.”
Ziemba praised the men and women who keep the APD jail operations humming.
“I just get in their way back here,” he says. “They’re the ones who do everything.”