Shortly after an evening briefing, Nicole Pizzati returned to the La Habra police station and put on a pair of latex gloves. It was early July, and balmy, and one of her patrol partners called her in to complete a custody search on a woman who was going to be booked into the La Habra City Jail.
“You’ve been here before, right?” Pizzati asked the woman.
The woman nodded.
It was a scene all too familiar for Pizzati and the team of officers who put the woman’s personal objects in a plastic bag.
It’s a typical patrol night for Pizzati, who has served as a police officer with the La Habra Police Department for nearly three years. Pizzati, who is 31, has a social energy that has the effect of putting people around her at ease.
Up until the age of seven, Pizzati and her family lived in Italy, where her father worked for Boeing. Once they moved back to the United States, she grew up in Yorba Linda with her parents, brother and sister, played the saxophone at Mater Dei High School – “Oddly enough, the marching helped me in the academy,” she said with a laugh – and enrolled at Cal State University, Fullerton, majoring in biology.
Knowing she wanted to help others, Pizzati thought of becoming a nurse, but after doing some research and visiting a few care facilities, she realized the environment wasn’t a match for her passion.
At 28-years-old and while working as a restaurant server, Pizzati applied to Golden West College’s Police Academy. It was a financial strain to put herself through the rigorous courses and training, but Pizzati wanted to ensure the academy was her top priority.
Law enforcement runs in her family. Pizzati’s father, Sal, has served as a reserve police officer at Chino Police Department for over 35 years. Her mother, however, expressed concern for her daughter’s choice in career but ultimately gave her support.
While at the academy, Pizzati said she grew close with other classmates – a bond that has stuck with her thus far in her early law enforcement career.
It’s that kind of solidarity with colleagues that exists within La Habra Police Department, Pizzati said. Officers put their lives on the line every day and they have each other’s backs in a way that’s not demonstrated in other professions, particularly in what could be potential life-or-death moments.
“La Habra Police Department is small, and I like that because you know everybody and it’s like a second family,” Pizzati said.
One of the most satisfying aspects of working in law enforcement is the opportunity she has to show people a better way, Pizzati said.
If a gang member is treated respectfully, he or she might listen to what Pizzati has to say, and how she treats a criminal can play a huge role in whether he or she makes better life choices in the future.
With an initial background in nursing, Pizzati said she also finds herself in positions where she can save someone’s life. It ranges from providing first aid and basic life support to a victim before paramedics arrive to taking drunk drivers off the road before they crash into another vehicle.
It’s a tremendous responsibility that comes with being a police officer, knowing that you’re making a difference for the people around you and protecting your community, Pizzati said.
While driving through the neighborhoods in her assigned area, Pizzati listened to dispatch and learned about a domestic dispute in a mobile home park. She rolled to the scene, finding two of her colleagues calmly talking to a male college athlete who had defended himself from his drug-addicted father. The crew of officers showed compassion and empathy, and gave suggestions to the young man on how to deal with the night’s challenges and gave him suggestions for the future too.
In a nearby community, an elderly woman called police, worried about a possible prowler in her home. Pizzati and her partners searched the woman’s property. They found no evidence of a prowler and made sure to assure the woman and her concerned neighbors that she and the neighborhood were safe.
Homeowners in two separate areas notified police about persons launching fireworks. Pizzati found the used fireworks in one of the area’s streets but no one was around. She collected the evidence and took it to the station.
She considers all calls as ongoing training that reinforce the skills needed to do the job.
I asked her why she drove around with the windows down on such a hot date. She explained, her mentor at the academy recounted a time when an officer was driving near an area during a drive-by shooting. Because the officer’s windows were rolled up, he didn’t hear the shots.
It’s one of many reasons she always drives with the windows down. Another is to increase the opportunity for positive community encounters.
“You’re not in this job to be liked – you have to do what it takes to make the streets safe,” Pizzati said as she narrowed her eyes on a new sedan with missing temporary license plates. “And now we’ll be pulling over that car.”
As she reviewed the driver’s issued temporary registration, Pizzati explained the requirement to display the paper on the vehicle.
“All right, there you go,” she told the driver. “Now have a good night and stay safe.”
This night riding with Officer Pizzati did not have any wild TV style police chases or major crimes. It was for her a normal night working patrol. For me it was a peek into what an officer deals with every day.
Officer Pizzati is happy and excited for her long law enforcement career. One of her goals is to make a positive impact on the public perspective of law enforcement and she does this through her interaction with the public and her creativity. The love and support she receives from her family, friends, long-time boyfriend and his family provide her with the support and motivation that help carry her through each shift so she and her partners get home safely. She likes the department, the community and the variety of exposure she has on a daily basis. La Habra is a great city and the police department is a great department.