It’s a rare find.
Acting Capt. Jeff Swaim, Acting Lt. Mel Ruiz and Sgt. Jose Quirarte all grew up in La Habra. Two of them attended the same junior and senior high schools and two of them were explorers and cadets together.
And all three have worked at La Habra Police Department their entire careers.
“We all talk about what it is going to be like to not walk into this building anymore,” Ruiz said. “We all grew up here. It’s home for us. It’s more than friendships, we are brothers.”
For nearly two decades, this trio of brothers has worked some of the toughest assignments in the city, busting hardened gang members, working on the SWAT team and going undercover to bring drug dealers to justice.
The trio reminisced about some of the highlights – and shared their passion for protecting the residents of La Habra.
Ruiz said the most rewarding part of his career was working in the Gang Violence Suppression Unit where, for many years, Quirarte was his partner. And in those days, in the early 1990s, “There was plenty to do,” Ruiz said, noting that gang shootings and homicides were a regular occurrence. “It wasn’t unusual to have mutual aid from other police agencies.”
Today, all three agree that gang violence in the city has diminished significantly. Not only due to their efforts earlier in their careers, but the department’s continuing commitment to address this problem. Prosecution tools, such as enhanced prison sentences for gang members, have also had a notable impact.
Occasionally, they run into those former gang members who have done their time, are done with the gang life and don’t want their family members involved in gangs.
“Its apples and oranges today,” Ruiz said.
The war on drugs
Swaim, who was also part of the gang crackdown, said his most memorable time on the force came working undercover in narcotics.
“I had the best time working dope,” he said, noting that it was also a dangerous assignment. “There were moments.”
During one assignment, he was doing an undercover deal in Anaheim, when a police helicopter started flying over his head. The drug dealer asked Swaim and partner to come with them to escape the police.
Getting in a car with a known criminal just wasn’t going to happen, Swaim said.
Quirarte, on the other hand, got his most rewarding assignment as a DARE officer for elementary and junior high school kids.
“I was able to reach some kids and keep them away from drugs,” he said. “One of them is now a SWAT officer at Placentia Police Department.”
Swaim’s ties to the La Habra Police Department run the deepest.
“I started off in the police department as a volunteer,” Swaim said. At the time, he was 13.
Swaim said he and his dad were avid CB radio operators broadcasting over the emergency channel 9.
“As members of R.E.A.C.T., (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams), we had access to a CB radio and, as citizens, we would patrol the city looking for suspicious activity and report it back to the police via the CB radio” Swaim shared. It was during this time that he learned about the explorer program.
He became a police explorer while attending Sonora High School, and that’s when he met Ruiz.
Ruiz was attending La Habra High School and had a cousin who was an explorer who wowed him with stories of ride-alongs.
So Ruiz decided to give it a try.
The pair was later hired as police cadets and began a lifelong friendship, even attending the Golden West Police Academy together.
“Jeff’s mom used to call me her other son,” Ruiz said.
Quirarte joined up about three years later. He knew Ruiz from their days at Imperial Junior High and La Habra High School.
“I ran into Mel one day and, at that time, I was debating career choices,” he said. “I went on a ride-along and I was hooked.”
All three have had storied careers in La Habra and multiple assignments including patrol, investigations and school resource officer.
They’ve all been promoted to top leadership positions and won multiple awards for their service.
“Being a police officer in the city you grew up in is a great honor,” Chief Jerry Price said. “These officers have proven to be a tremendous asset to the residents of La Habra and have been key to battling crime and keeping the streets safe.”
While they could have made more money by going to a bigger police department, staying home and serving the community they grew up in was more important.
“We have developed lifelong friends here,” Swaim said. “You don’t want to walk away and start over.”
Quirarte agreed it’s like being a family.
“I’m working with my fellow brothers here.”