Ebb and flow in Westminster detectives’ bureau increases mentorship, experience


When Det. Henry Tran was still training in patrol for the Westminster Police Department, he was sent to a call for a child who was not breathing and unconscious.

Tran started chest compressions until paramedics could arrive, but unfortunately the child did not survive. The experience was tragic and traumatic, but Tran clearly remembers the detective who arrived at the scene: Daniel Flynn.

“He was as calm as anybody I’ve ever seen in that situation,” Tran said.

Flynn immediately began coordinating tasks for those at the scene.

“Completely in control,” Tran said. “That blew my mind because of how calm he was. To this day I look up to him because of that day.”

Tran is now working alongside Flynn — who has been at the Westminster Police Department for 14 years with six years in the detectives bureau — as one of the agency’s new detectives.

“I’m still in awe to be honest,” said Tran, who has been at the Westminster Police Department for nearly three years. “Every day I get dressed, I’m in a suit. I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘Wow it’s actually happening.’ I’m still shocked.”

Detective Henry Tran of the Westminster Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tran is among three incoming detectives who started their new positions with the bureau at the start of 2021. Tran is working in fraud, Det. David Ramirez is in burglary, and Det. Sam Gradilla is working in auto theft.

“We had three veteran detectives rotate out of our bureau in January,” Sgt. Scott Gump said. “Det. Seasock, Det. Vasquez-Phan and Det. Kent went back to patrol. The three of them combined worked in the bureau for 20 years, so we lost a lot of great experience and leadership. The optimistic outlook is they are now working patrol again and can help train newer patrol officers with their detective mentality and solve more crimes before they even reach a detective’s desk.”

There are 12 detectives split between the Crimes Against Persons Bureau and Crimes Against Property/Special Investigation Unit, plus two sergeants, one commander, six civilian investigators and one crime analyst making up the bureau.  

“This change happens occasionally as detectives are picked to serve in a five-year assignment and then they can be extended for a one-year increment based on department needs and if the detective requests an extension in their current assignment,” said Gump.

“It is always very important to balance experience while simultaneously allowing new opportunities for other officers that have aspirations to work in the detective bureau,” he said. “Working as a detective gives officers great experience in investigations and helps develop skills in their career that can help solve more crimes while also mentoring younger officers at our department.”

Detective David Ramirez of the Westminster Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Officer Kyle Seasock had been a detective for nearly nine years when he rotated out in January.

“Nine years has flown by,” he said. “You see things from the back end. I know it’s kind of cliché — detectives will make you a better officer — but it’s 100 percent true. You just see things differently.”

He has enjoyed his time as a detective and had the opportunity to participate in every major case at Westminster Police Department over the past nine years. He worked in narcotics the entire time.

“The highlight was the whole slap house [illegal gambling business]thing,” Seasock said. “We were one of the first cities that started tackling them. Learning through that process and then having other agencies reach out, that was cool.”

He also learned about the importance of informants.

“They’re out in the middle of it,” he said. “They know more than we do. As long as you know a lot of the players, they keep you up to date.”

Seasock was awarded Detective of the Year in 2015 and 2018, and also received an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his work in the community helping educate about narcotics.

“I thoroughly believe that, yes, this is probably the best portion of my career,” he said.

Officer Norma Vasquez-Phan, who transitioned from detectives to patrol earlier this year, worked in the bureau for the last 7 1/2 years. She worked in robbery-homicide for the past 6 1/2 years.

“I really loved it,” she said. “It was a great learning experience. I love working with the people that were there.”

Detective Sam Gradilla of the Westminster Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

She said there are a few cases that have stayed with her.

“They’re all pretty interesting and they take a lot of time and investigation,” she said. “My first homicide’s always going to stick to me because that was the first one I handled. It was a 2015 case where it was a family dispute in which [a]nephew shot and killed his uncle.”

There was also a 2018 homicide that was a DNA case.

“We were able to find the suspects through DNA,” she said. “It was one of those family DNA searches. That was pretty interesting because [we]had never had anything like that before. It’s very rare that a suspect will leave their DNA behind.”

Vasquez-Phan decided it was time to leave the bureau because she needed to devote more time to her youngest daughter’s health.

“It’s demanding, especially in that position,” she said. “It has to be somebody who’s 100 percent dedicated. You work late hours.”

Though she said she might be back.

“It’s where I learned a lot. It made me a more well-rounded officer. I do owe a lot to the bureau,” she said. “Nothing’s to say I won’t go back.”

Det. Sam Gradilla, who has worked at the Westminster Police Department for five years, moved from patrol to detectives on Jan. 18.

“It was something that I always wanted to do, always a goal of mine,” he said.

Prior to becoming a police officer, Gradilla worked as an EMT for close to three years.

“I’ve always wanted to serve one way or another,” he said.

An added bonus of moving into detectives is that he gets to work with his brother, Mike Gradilla, who moved into the bureau last year and has been at the agency for about seven years.

“I’ve also learned a lot from him,” he said. “If I don’t know something, I’ll ask him. … That’s definitely a plus to have.”

Kyle Seasock of the Westminster Police Department, who in 2019 received the Investigator of the Year award, is heading back to patrol.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Gradilla said being in detectives vs. patrol is “almost two separate worlds.”

“With detectives, it’s more of a methodical thinking game. You can now take your time, develop a plan, go follow up your leads,” he said.

Whereas in patrol, the job is about responding to emergency calls for service, lights and sirens, and a bit of chaos.

“When you’re busy, you learn to manage your time, which is really important when you’re in detectives,” he said.

He said it is an adjustment but he’s enjoying his new role as an auto theft detective.

“I do miss patrol, but I’m also learning so much and having a great time in detectives,” he said.

It’s this movement and learning that makes the agency better, according to Gump.

“Having a mix of veteran and younger detectives works out just fine, as there is mentoring that takes place from veterans to the newer detectives,” he said. “In return, the newer detectives now pass on that experience and mentor the new detectives that will be coming in the next couple years.” 

“They do this mentoring and training by sharing investigative techniques through acquired skills and experiences, always embracing the methods of new technology that helps us solve crimes coupled with that ‘old school’ mentality of getting out in the field and solving crimes,” Gump said.