“Hobocop” got buzzed.
Last Thursday afternoon, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy walked into a San Clemente barbershop — sober as a judge — to face Judgment Day:
It had been nearly two years since Jeremiah Prescott last had his locks shorn.
Back then, they weren’t locks. As befitting a peace officer, Prescott, over the course of his 18 years at the OCSD, religiously maintained the high-and-tight look.
But on May 25, it was time for Prescott’s hair to be “brought up to regulation,” in OCSD parlance.
That’s because Prescott had been reassigned back to patrol — with a trainee, effective May 28 — after being undercover for nearly two years. And there was no way he was going to freak out the new deputy looking like a bum (nor would he be allowed to).
About two years ago, Prescott starting letting his hair grow wild — along with a beard — when he was assigned to the OCSD’s South County Directed Enforcement Team (DET).
He transformed into a shaggy looking dude who appeared to live on the streets, which allowed him to disappear into the background on countless OCSD operations — typically, when deputies wanted to put eyes on suspects without being noticed.
One time, Prescott sat on a bench holding a bag of trash and eating a banana so he could get a close-up look at the home of a suspect under surveillance for a string of residential burglaries.
It worked, and the perp was hauled off to the slammer.
Another time, Prescott was doing surveillance and was parked in someone’s parking spot. The person walked up to Prescott’s car, with tinted windows and a sunshade, and cupped his hands to try and see inside.
“I don’t know who or what’s in there,” the man told his companion, “but there’s a dog in there.”
Yes, the man had caught a glimpse of Prescott’s unruly tresses.
“He fit right in as one of the city’s homeless guys,” said Lt. Dave Moodie, Chief of Police Services for San Clemente, Prescott’s longtime stomping ground as an OCSD patrol deputy until he went undercover.
As a member of DET, Prescott and more than a dozen fellow “UCs” (for undercover) targeted bad guys throughout South O.C., from the beach cities inland to Rancho Santa Margarita.
His specialty was appearing to be homeless — hence, the “Hobocop” nickname.
There were others:
Jeremiah Johnson, after the scruffy Robert Redford mountain man in the flick of the same name.
Or “Revenent,” after the long-haired and bearded Leonardo Di Caprio character left for dead in the frigid wilderness in the Oscar-winning 2015 movie.
Now, it was time to say bye-bye to looking down-and-out.
More than a dozen of Prescott’s colleagues jammed Beach Cities Barbershop (South Side, barbersanclemente.com), at 522 S. El Camino Real in San Clemente, to witness the Massacre of the Mane.
Prescott’s brown hair had grown to about 10 inches.
His beard had blossomed into a wiry mass of gray.
“I do like it,” Prescott said of his hair just before the buzz cut began. “It gets in the way sometimes. I find it in food, and I leave more hair in the shower than my wife does.”
Said Prescott’s wife, who broadcast the shearing on Facebook Live: “I like his hair, just not the beard.”
Barber Karrie Marks came in on her day off to cut Prescott’s hair. The deputy has been coming to her for about a decade at the barbershop, which caters to male Marines and members of law enforcement.
“Ready?” Marks said. “Let’s do this.”
At 4:16 p.m., the buzzing began.
How you feeling, Prescott was asked.
Prescott, 44 has loved his DET assignment.
“This is the best detail I’ve had,” he said. “When you’re a street-level cop working patrol, at a time when our agency is doing a lot more with a lot less, you go from call to call to call. You are tied to your radio, essentially doing triage.
“When you get to a detail like this, that’s when you have the opportunity to do some really good surgery, so to speak, instead of just triage. You can actually fix a problem.”
Prescott has helped fix several problems.
One time, while staking out a neighborhood deputies predicted would be hit by burglars, a car pulled up and parked right behind an OCSD sergeant’s unmarked vehicle.
The deputies, including Prescott, ended up witnessing an L.A.-based crew of three breaking into a home.
The incident, in April, turned into a high-speed vehicle chase that made the evening news, with the suspects’ car ending up on the course of the San Juan Hills Golf Club in San Juan Capistrano, and the suspects trying to escape through storm drains and the San Juan Creek.
All three were arrested.
Prescott was working another case involving a suspect who came to south O.C. and carjacked someone at gunpoint, drove around and made the victim withdraw money from ATMs.
Prescott and his colleagues located someone they thought was the suspect sleeping on a park bench in L.A.
“It was too dark to tell if it was him,” Prescott said, “so I dressed up like a bum and woke him up and asked him for beer. He was mad. I was acting drunk. When he turned his head toward me, I was able to ID him as a suspect. I backed off and let him go back to sleep. Then we woke him up again and arrested him.”
The suspect, realizing the apparently homeless man actually was a peace officer, turned to Prescott and said:
“Dude, that’s just wicked mean.”
Sgt. Werner Hartman said Prescott will be missed on the DET, but as a veteran patrol deputy, his institutional knowledge will be invaluable. He is one of 26 deputies who patrol San Clemente, where Prescott’s family roots go back to the 1950s.
“He’s one of our best,” Hartman said. “He’s very conscientious, a very ‘cross the t, dot the I’ kind of guy. He cares about his work. He takes the extra step because he realizes the end product directly reflects on him.”
It took Marks less than 20 minutes to give Prescott his dramatic haircut.
“I’m going to have to wear sunscreen (on my head) now,” he said.
“That’s got to feel good,” his wife said.
“Yeah, I can feel air on my face again.”
Said Moodie: “What a transformation.”
Prescott left behind a large pile of hair.
“I’m afraid of what might be in there,” one wag commented.
“Thanks for looking normal again,” CSO Stephanie Jones told Prescott.
“I remember that guy,” another deputy said.
Said another: “I can’t even talk to you anymore, dude. Do I have to say sir now to you?”
It took a bit for Prescott’s family dog, an Anatolian Shepherd and hound mix rescue the Prescotts adopted six months ago, to get used to his new look.
“I got in the front door, but no further,” Prescott said of returning home after the haircut. “He was protecting the house from the clean-shaven ‘intruder.’ It took about one minute of me calling him before he recognized me and became friendly again.”