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When Don Maakestad saw the Anaheim Police Department patrol car in front of his daughter’s house, the 80-year-old man’s eyes lit up with delight at the gleaming black-and-white vehicle.
As Anaheim Police Watch Commander Lt. Chris Moody described the capabilities of the patrol car, Maakestad marveled at the technology within it – the state-of-the-art radio and a computer that could run license plate numbers within minutes.
For Maakestad, a former police officer, seeing the vehicle was a treat for his 80th birthday.
“I would sleep in this car,” he said, half-joking. “I would never leave it.”
The Garden Grove resident, who served as an officer for the Needles Police department from 1960 to 1964, recalled working with a radio with a 17-mile reach.
“If you chased a car and were out of two-way contact, you were on your own,” he said.
On Nov. 11, family and friends wanted to celebrate Maakestad’s birthday in a way that honored his time as a police officer.
One of his daughters, Kelly Adele, reached out to the Anaheim Police Department via email with her father’s request to sit in a patrol car. Anaheim PD was happy to oblige.
“We all know how important it was to him,” Adele said. “To have Anaheim PD do this, it’s so special because being a cop was such a big part of his life. I can’t even believe that these guys came out and did all of this.”
Moody was happy to honor the birthday request.
“I jumped at the chance for someone who retired that long ago with that much history,” Moody said. “It was interesting to hear from him because a lot has changed but a lot hasn’t changed when he talked about what he was exposed to. The common thing among police officers is that they want to help people. That means putting themselves in danger to help others.”
Maakestad, who was working for a gas company, was about 22 when the Needles Police Department approached him about joining the force in 1960. After a year at a desk, he went on patrol and found a passion for catching criminals.
“I worked my ass off,” Maakestad said. “Every day, I went to work protecting people, and I loved it. All I wanted to do was help.”
He worked 25 days straight before taking a day off, something he was reluctant to do.
“I didn’t want to have the time off,” he said. “I wanted to keep going.”
Maakestad, who became a sergeant in 1963, preferred working overnight shifts.
“I hated being on the day shifts,” he said. “All they had were dog bites and domestic stuff and writing tickets. I wanted to catch people.”
He described the Route 66 he patrolled in the 1960s as “a hotbed of crime” and Needles as a town that attracted criminals fleeing Los Angeles in stolen vehicles.
“It was not the romantic road people make it out to be now,” Maakestad said.
As he flipped through a scrapbook filled with pictures and newspaper clippings of his time as a police officer, Maakestad recounted stories of capturing thieves and wanted bad guys.
He once pulled over a car with bugs splattered across the back license plate, but not the front. Maakestad suspected that the guy replaced them with plates he stole from the front of a car. “And he wondered why he got pulled over!” he said.
On an overnight shift, Maakestad saw three men break into a fast-food restaurant and arrested them. They turned out to be thieves wanted in two states.
Maakestad left the department in 1964, shortly after he watched a little girl die in his arms following a car accident that killed her and her grandmother.
“I was crying,” he said. “I had blood on my shirt. That was it. I didn’t want no more.”
He moved on to work for Meineke, traveling the country to train new franchisees. He worked for the company for 35 years before retiring in 2010.
But he often recounts his stories of being a police officer and still maintains a connection to the place he once patrolled, visiting Needles at least once a year.
“Better to be a has-been than a never-waser,” he said about his time as an officer. “I truly believed in what I was doing and I loved it.”
He looked at the Anaheim police car once more before returning to his daughter’s house and his 80th birthday celebration.
“It’s nice that I got to do this,” he said. “It really, really is.”