In Punjab, the heart of India’s Sikh community, adherents of the 500-year-old faith wear a dastaar, or turban, as a symbol of honor and self-respect.
The dastaar also signifies piety and purity of mind.
Practicing Sikhs also traditionally carry on their bodies a kirpan, a dagger that is an article of faith symbolizing self-reliance and protecting one’s honor.
Harminderjit “Harmin” Sandhu was born in Punjab and speaks Punjabi fluently, but he immigrated with his family to the United States when he was 4, so he never grew his hair long and tucked it into a dastaar, or carried around a kirpan.
But as the La Habra PD’s only Sikh officer, he does, of course, carry around a gun and other tools of the trade — and even occasionally speaks Punjabi when he runs into other natives of India while on patrol.
“They’re kind of surprised by the whole thing,” Sandhu says. “Not a lot of (natives of India) go into police work.”
In recalling some recent interactions with other natives of India he recalled when he spoke Punjabi to a hotel owner after a gun and drugs were found in a room.
On another call, he spoke it to a suspect in the hospital.
Mostly, though, of course, Sandhu speaks English on the job.
On a recent call for service, he and his sergeant responded to a domestic violence call where they had to write down their questions to a mute woman whose main form of communication was sign language.
It was an uncommon call for Sandhu, who joined the La Habra PD in October 2017 after a six-year career as a peace officer assigned to the state-run Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.
There, Sandhu attained the rank of sergeant as an employee of the Department of Developmental Services’ Office of Protective Services.
And at Fairview Developmental Center, Sandhu met scores of municipal Orange County police officers, who regularly trained in the vacant buildings at the sprawling facility.
After learning that Fairview was scheduled to close by 2021, Sandhu started looking for other law enforcement opportunities — and chose the La Habra PD. La Habra PD is one of Orange County’s moderately sized police agencies, and he chose La Habra for its excellent reputation and family-like vibe.
At 38, Sandhu is starting all over as a patrol officer, with aspirations of one day again attaining the rank of sergeant.
For now, he’s adjusting to a different kind of policing. At La Habra, he responds to many more calls for service compared to his time at Fairview.
“I’ve learned a lot already — it’s a totally different type of atmosphere here at La Habra than at Fairview,” says Sandhu, who grew up in Whittier.
Sandhu’s father worked in retail and his mother worked as a cashier at two restaurants while raising Sandhu and his two older brothers.
The family came to the U.S. seeking a better life in 1984, when the India/Pakistan war, over disputed land, was raging. Sandhu’s uncle, then living in Orange County, sponsored them.
After Sandhu graduated in 1998 from California High School in Whittier, he worked in a warehouse for a lock maker before joining his brother’s security company, California Coastal Patrol, as a security officer.
That served as a stepping-stone into a career in law enforcement, something Sandhu says always has interested him.
“I’ve always thought how cool it is that (police officers) go out and bust the bad guys,” says Sandhu, who self-sponsored himself through the Fullerton College Police Academy.
Two years after graduating from the academy in 2009, Sandhu landed his job at Fairview.
“It was a good experience,” he says of his career there.
A few months ago, he had a relatively eventful call while on patrol with, at the time, his field training officer. They assisted the Fullerton PD in a vehicle pursuit, and Sandhu was involved his first high-speed pursuit with a suspect. The suspect ultimately crashed his car and was arrested after a short foot pursuit.
These days, Sandhu works patrol in Area 1 of La Habra, which includes lots of residential areas but also some retail and commercial properties in the north west area of La Habra.
“A lot of the calls I respond to are report calls for thefts or other incidents” Sandhu says. “La Habra, like other Orange County cities, has started to see an increase in the homeless population, and because of the city’s location, we experience a lot of traffic collisions during peak traffic times.”
On a recent ride along with Officer Sandhu, there were no car chases or foot pursuits. However, he did pull over a van with its taillights out. The female driver was apologetic, and told Sandhu she was heading to a car repair shop to get them fixed.
Later, he was dispatched to a possible drunk driver. However, the traffic was heavy on Imperial Highway and he was unable to locate the driver.
And so it went for Sandhu’s shift before he returned home to his wife, Elvia, a physician assistant, and 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Outside of work, Sandhu loves to hike and watch sports. He is an L.A. guy at heart: The Lakers and Dodgers are his teams.
And he and his family attend a Sikh temple near their home.