A year ago — Jan. 20, 2015, to be specific — Behind the Badge OC featured a story about a Garden Grove cop getting a haircut (read story here).
Big deal, right?
Well, actually, it was.
The story about Cpl. Sean Salazar, who cut his hair after spending more than 5 years working undercover as a narcotics detective, went on to become the second-most viewed story in Behind the Badge’s history.
Behind the Badge OC recently caught up with Salazar to discuss the story, which went international.
Never underestimate the power of a simple haircut.
So, when was your last haircut?
How long did it take for your kids to get used to your new look?
About a month.
My daughter, Makayla, sometimes asks me what happened to my hair. My kids will look at my old pictures and tell me they miss the long hair and want me to grow it back. My son Cash is trying to get me to let him grow his hair out “like you did, dad.”
That’s not happening.
How are things going now that you’re back on patrol?
Patrol is not as exciting as being in dope, but nonetheless, it’s still fun, and I still look forward to going to work every day. It took about seven months to finally get re-acclimated to patrol and learn all the new policies and procedures that changed since I had been gone.
For the first couple of months, my officer safety was horrible. I was so used to being relaxed and “letting my hair down” while conducting undercover (U/C) operations. A U/C can’t go into a U/C operation and talk to a potential drug dealer in a 60/40 stance and exude command presence — if he or she does, the U/C will get made.
It’s also exciting to get to know all the younger guys that I didn’t know who were hired when I was in dope and share the investigative techniques I learned while working undercover and to pass along as much knowledge as I possibly can.
Were you surprised by all the attention the story about your haircut got?
My wife and I were very surprised. I had no idea just how big it would get. When I originally agreed to do the interview, I thought that only local law enforcement agencies would be the only ones to see it.
Boy, was I wrong!
By the end of the week, the story had gone international and reporters and people from the film industry began calling. Rachel and I weren’t prepared for what was about to happen.
How did your colleagues at the GGPD react? I bet you got a lot of ribbing.
For the most part, my colleagues were supportive and just as much surprised as I was. Yes, the ribbing still happens a year later. I just recently found a hairbrush in my mailbox and ponytail bands in my gear bag, and the references to the cowardly lion from “The Wizard of Oz” continue. Several of my closet colleagues said that if a movie or TV show happened they would be my entertainment manger for a small fee of 25 percent.
The story caught the attention of some Hollywood types and many other media.
Sony Pictures, Departure Films, “Inside Edition,” the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Times and several Hollywood screenwriters contacted me. This is part of the story Rachel and I weren’t prepared for.
I had people calling just about every day wanting to do some type of an interview about my undercover experience. To be honest, it got a little overwhelming. I didn’t want the attention in the first place. I just wanted to bring awareness to cancer and to Locks of Love — that was my only intent.
However, people began calling and wanting me to share stories about the undercover life of a police officer or how my wife and kids were affected by my job and physical transformation.
“Inside Edition” was the first to contact me. They wanted to set up and film and interview at my house with my family. When I told them I didn’t want to film anything at my house, they made an appointment for me and my family to go to their studio for the interview without me even agreeing to it.
Everything happened so fast. I began to get worried about people seeing the interview and making ill-founded accusations against me by people or suspects that I might have investigated or built cases against. With that in mind, I declined to give any further interviews until Behind the Badge OC came to me for a one-year follow- up to the original story.
As far as anything in production. I did speak to Sony and Departure Films about a possible movie or television short series. I had several appointments and did multiple (online) interviews with screenwriters for these companies.
Their intention is to create a screenplay about a street-level narcotics officer whose wife had to put up with his physical transformation while she maintained a loving family life — pretty much everything my wife went though. I’ve also been asked to be a consultant in the filming or future undercover police movies, which to date, I have not had the opportunity to do.
Last I heard, there has not been anything in production as far as my story. There are a few things out there pending but nothing definite. I was told that once the screenplay gets written then it goes to budgeting, which I know nothing about.
Do you miss your long, flowing locks?
Rachel and I were talking last week and she said she really misses it. She told me that when I retire, she wants me to grow it back minus the nasty-looking beard and mustache. I still find myself trying to pull my hair back in an imaginary ponytail, much like a phantom limb.
Do you miss working undercover?
Just about every day. I still help my old unit by conducting surveillance and search warrants with them. However, they don’t let me do all the fun stuff that life as a U/C brings you.
Any other thoughts?
I have never done anything like this (being interviewed for an article) and wasn’t sure what to expect. I had no idea this would get the attention it did. I got a lot more than I bargained for. This was a really cool experience for me and my family.
A few of my old Marine Corps buddies who I haven’t talked to in years saw and read the article, and though several channels got a hold of me. We actually all got together this past summer and caught up on old times. I’m very thankful for that.