Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published Jan. 20.
In the 5½ years since his last haircut, Sean Salazar got married.
He became a father — twice.
Also during that time, Salazar — his mid ’70s-era, Gregg Allman-style blond mane flowing — helped put drug dealers and other bad guys in jail working undercover for the Garden Grove PD.
So convincingly did Salazar look the part of a drug-addled lowlife that even cops from other agencies had trouble believing he was a police officer.
“You’re the best undercover cop I’ve ever seen,” an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy told Salazar recently.
The deputy initially had pulled Salazar out of the security line at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana because he looked suspicious.
And over the last 5 ½ years, when Salazar and his wife, Rachel, would go out together — say, on a dinner date — they regularly would overhear people whispering why she was with such a dubiously groomed guy.
“It became a running joke with us,” Salazar said with a laugh.
It also became awkward when the Salazars’ teen daughter wanted to have a friend sleep over.
“The parents were OK with it after we explained to them what his job was,” Rachel said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Salazar walked into Lux Aveda Salon/Spa in Fullerton to get a haircut — routine for most folks, but for Salazar, 38, a major life event.
His new assignment as a clean-cut, uniformed patrol officer was starting in three days.
“I feel like I’m going to a funeral,” the affable corporal said when he walked into the salon.
Salazar’s wife, 32, and three children — Madison, 14, Cash, 4, and Makayla, 1½, — were there for moral support. The young ones also were there so they wouldn’t freak out seeing their dad surprise them by showing up at home freshly shorn.
Also with Salazar were four other undercover cops and the team’s sergeant to witness what one called the “rebirth” of Salazar.
“Do you need a chainsaw?” one of the undercover cops asked Crystal Desmond, the stylist tasked with lopping off Salazar’s terrifically long tresses — which had become the stuff of legend around the Garden Grove PD.
Salazar, 38, never had been to such a fancy salon before — he’s a Supercuts guy.
Lux Aveda Salon/Spa, located at 219 E. Commonwealth, provided the stupendous shearing for free. One of Salazar’s undercover pals arranged the appointment.
As a dazed-looking Salazar stared in the mirror, Desmond first lopped off two ponytails measuring 2 feet.
“Unbelievable,” Salazar, transfixed by his image in the mirror, muttered.
Desmond then went to work on the sides — using an electric razor to give the officer a high-and-tight cut.
“I bet you haven’t heard that buzzing sound in a while,” she told Salazar.
Desmond then cut and styled the top — keeping it a tad long for Salazar to slick back.
“I basically gave him three haircuts,” she said of the hour-long process.
Salazar, who grew up in Garden Grove, is a former Marine and military police officer once was assigned to a special detail at the White House when Bill Clinton was president.
He has been a Garden Grove police officer for nearly 12 years.
Until he joined the undercover team in June 2010, Salazar always kept his hair short.
But he was determined to look the part of a drug-popping dude when he went undercover, topping off his uber-casual look with his typical wardrobe of sneakers, jeans or shorts, and T-shirt or sweatshirt.
“It’s an acting job,” Salazar said of undercover policing.
Rachel loved his short hair but eventually took to his flowing mane.
“I’m a little sad — it’s kind of an emotional day,” Rachel Salazar said of haircut day.
But when it was over, she was elated.
“You’re so handsome!” she said before kissing her husband.
She added: “It’s like I get to sleep with a completely new man.”
Salazar donated his hair to Locks of Love, the non-profit that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
“I can’t get over it,” an undercover cop said of Salazar’s new look.
Salazar then returned to police headquarters to show off his drastically new appearance.
Colleagues alternately ribbed and praised him.
“That’s the Sean Salazar I remember — the crime fighter,” Master Reserve Officer Patrick Thrasher said.
“Are you kidding me?” Lt. Tom DaRe said. “Wow!”
Getting used to a police uniform, Salazar said, will take some time.
“I sweated like a pig and felt like a sausage,” Salazar said of trying it on after 5 ½ years.
But he’s ready for his new assignment — and excited about being on patrol.
Said Salazar, slowly getting a feel for his new appearance: “There’s a new sheriff in town.”