At Santa Ana Police Department, small gestures yield positive returns


Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.

In the Santa Ana Police Department’s Community First policy, random acts of kindness by officers are encouraged and can pay dividends, even if only to boost the morale of those involved.

Take the relationship of Otto Laufer, a 26-year police officer and 21-year Santa Ana Police Department vet, and Dan Nunez, a 77-year-old Marine Corps vet and Santa Ana resident.

From time to time, Laufer drops by to check on residents in his patrol area just to see how they are doing.

“One thing I like is the idea of the whole community approach to policing,” Laufer said.

When police are more than just first responders in a crisis, Laufer said, it makes for better communities.

“We’re not just there to respond on the worst day of your life,” Laufer said. “When you can connect on an (ordinary) basis, those relationships last.”

Dan Nuñez, center, talks with Santa Ana Police Officers Jose Rosales, left, and Otto Laufer, in front of his home in Santa Ana.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

And sometimes they yield unexpected benefits.

After wrapping up a call for service, Laufer decided to drop in on Nunez at his home in northeast Santa Ana.

Laufer noticed Nunez was limping pretty badly and leaning on a rickety cane. Nunez, whose balance is affected by peripheral neuropathy, admitted he had taken a couple of tumbles.

“I was banged up,” Nunez said.

Laufer called fellow Officer Jose Rosales, who often carries items for kids and homeless people in the back of his cruiser. Rosales had a couple of solid canes in his collection and swung over to give Nunez a sturdier, steadier cane.

A retired Marine, Nunez wears his affiliation not literally on his sleeve but on his pandemic face mask that reads “USMC” in large red letters.

As a 17-year-old high schooler, Nunez remembers writing a letter to the commandant at Camp Pendleton saying he wanted to become a Marine. To his surprise, the commanding officer responded personally, telling Nunez to see him after he graduated from high school.

Nunez ended up serving from 1962 to 1968, both in active and reserve status.

After leaving the Marines, Nunez raised a family and moved to Santa Ana in the 1970s. He has five children and has been married to his second wife, Cindy, for 44 years.

Dan Nuñez inside his home in Santa Ana.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

As a former Marine, infirmity is not something Nunez cares to admit to.

“It makes me look older,” he said of the cane, then admitted, “I need to use it.”

Laufer met Nunez on the job through a common thread.

While in the Los Angeles Police Department, Laufer and other officers frequented Gil’s Super Burger, a former eatery on South Hill Street in Los Angeles, owned by and named after Nunez’s older brother.

When Laufer transferred to Santa Ana, “Gil told me you should get to know him,” Nunez remembers. “I couldn’t ask for a better friend.”

Laufer and Rosales say the help they were able to provide Nunez is a gratifying part of the job.

“With cops it’s innate,” Laufer said. “You see a problem and you want to fix it.”

When they can provide even small services, Laufer said, it pays off on a larger scale.

“In these times, it’s very challenging,” Laufer says of policing. “Our community appreciates and loves us, and part of that is we love them in return and we appreciate them in return. We are public servants.”

While being a police officer necessarily involves crime fighting, law enforcement, and occasionally being in harm’s way, the other side of the job is important as well.

“My true joy comes from moments like this,” Laufer said.