She turns the key and raps her knuckles on the door.
“You decent?” she asks.
“Come on in,” Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada says.
Jennie Negrete slowly shuffles into the office with a fresh cup of coffee in the chief’s favorite blue mug. The steaming joe is just as he likes it: black, with a splash of Coffee-Mate French Vanilla Creamer.
At 6:50 a.m., Chief Quezada still is in his workout clothes, checking his email.
A few minutes later, Negrete delivers to Chief Quezada one of her homemade chicken tamales — the stuff of legend around the Anaheim PD (retired Chief John Welter still buys them by the dozen).
“Smells delicious,” Chief Quezada says.
“I hope you like it,” Negrete says.
She adds, on her way out: “I’m sure you will.”
Officially, 84-year-old Jennie M. Negrete — who grew up in Anaheim and has lived in the same house in downtown Anaheim for more than 50 years — is a part-time general services worker at the Anaheim PD.
Unofficially, she’s a beloved fixture at the agency — a straight-talking grandmother and mother figure to many who is motivated, punctual and reliable.
“I’m the oldest person in this place,” Negrete says.
Cindy Hernandez, a secretary in the chief’s office, says: “Don’t let Jennie fool you. She’s the boss around here.”
Negrete’s job is to sort the daily U.S. mail, liaison with City Hall for interoffice mail and prepare various meeting spaces throughout the department. She occasionally tidies up the offices of the agency’s top brass and chats up everyone from cadets to Chief Quezada.
Oh, the stories she’s heard.
But don’t expect her to dish any juicy stuff.
“I hear things,” Negrete says, “and I hear nothing.”
Officially, Negrete works 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, earning $10.84 an hour.
Unofficially, she typically puts in 5 to 10 more hours a week — for no extra pay.
“If I didn’t work, I’d be doing nothing,” says Negrete, whose husband, John, a truck driver, died several years ago.
When she’s home, Negrete watches all the current telenovellas (Spanish-language serial dramas).
“Sometimes,” Negrete says, “I want to break the TV for the things they do.”
Everyone at the Anaheim PD calls her Jennie.
Negrete calls most everyone “honey” or “sweetie.”
She rolls a cart into the office of Capt. Mark Cyprien, commander of the Operations Division.
“Is the captain in?” Negrete, who is between cataract surgeries, asks Cyprien’s secretary, Erlie Nario.
“No,” Nario tells her.
“I was just going to yell at him.”
Nario loves her brief visits with Negrete.
“She loves to talk,” Nario says. “She’s a happy person.”
Negrete’s cart is filled with cleaning supplies and a box filled with empty plastic and glass bottles. People throughout the PD save them for her. Negrete makes about $25 a month recycling them.
Before Negrete began working at the Anaheim Police Department in 1998, she was a custodian who cleaned several city buildings. She’s also worked in restaurants and at grocery stores and coin laundries while raising four daughters.
Negrete, who has 12 grandchildren, started at the PD as a volunteer before it became a paying job.
Her cubicle, located in the PD’s budget and finance area, is packed with photos, old Christmas cards and Post-it notes. There’s also a pocket-size New Testament (a gift from a niece) and a picture of Pope Francis.
“I can’t seem to throw anything away,” Negrete says.
Negrete often cruises down the halls of the Anaheim PD in a motorized scooter designed to look like a patrol car — the number 30 on the front indicating the year she was born.
The scooter was a gift last summer from Ruben Perez, a civilian staff analyst who noticed Negrete was slowing down some. He had bought the scooter at an auction, intending to convert it into a wagon for his two young kids.
When she’s not working at the Anaheim PD, Negrete tools around town in her late husband’s 1975 white Ford truck.
“His pride and joy,” she says.
Several police officers want to buy the vintage truck.
So far, Negrete’s not biting.
And she’s not ready to stop working.
“Everyone here is nice to me,” Negrete says, “and I try to be nice to everybody.”
In fact, the Anaheim PD may have a hard time convincing Negrete to someday take it easy and spend her days relaxing in her three-bedroom home.
“I love it here,” Negrete says. “I can cook (in the detention facility) here.”
She adds with a mischievous grin: “Maybe I will go downstairs and sleep in the jail. They have showers down there. I don’t need much.”