Clara Ramirez was born in Orange County and grew up in Irvine, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico who met in Texas and relocated here to work the strawberry fields and other crops.
All her parents expected of her and her two siblings was for them to work hard and graduate from high school.
“Working was the No. 1 thing for them,” Ramirez says. “They hoped we would go to college, but it was never an expectation. They never graduated from high school.”
Ramirez, in particular, vastly exceeded the expectations of her parents, Clara and Lizandro, the latter of which, at age 78, still works the few remaining fields in Irvine as a field crop supervisor (Ramirez’s mother, 68, recently retired).
Ramirez is a sergeant with the Orange PD who not only has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State University, Fullerton, but who is working on a master’s degree in legal and forensic psychology at UC Irvine. She completed her first year of studies this June and hopes to graduate in June 2020.
“I’ve always liked psychology,” she says of her graduate-degree work. “Legal and forensic psychology is a combination of law enforcement, the legal system and psychology. So it’s a combination of my profession and what I enjoy.
“I’m very interested and fascinated with the study of human behavior and the psychological development of serial killers and sex offenders.”
Hard work has defined Ramirez’s career.
“I’m the type of person that likes to always further develop myself,” says Ramirez, 44, who is engaged to a fellow OPD sergeant. She has a 4-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old stepson.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Ramirez says. “I want to be able to set that example and show people that hard work can get you where you want to go.
“I live my life with simple philosophies: Treat others how you want to be treated and always be respectful. My mother always said, ‘Work hard, earn your way to the top, and don’t step on anyone to get there.’”
Ramirez’s fiancé is also working on a master’s degree in Public Administration at CSF.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Growing up in Irvine, Ramirez says her friends and classmates assumed her parents were relatively well off.
“Growing up in Irvine, you would have never guessed I wasn’t part of the rich crowd, Ramirez says. “My parents worked very hard to ensure we always had everything our hearts desired, just like everybody else.
“Unbeknownst to people, my parents were working back-breaking jobs, picking strawberries in the fields, I was living in company housing, and we were a low- income family.”
Ramirez’s parents eventually saved enough money to purchase their own home in Santa Ana after Ramirez graduated from high school.
“It’s very hard not to brag about my parents,” she says. “Everything I have, and the woman I am today, is because of them. They taught me the value of working hard and never forgetting where I came from.”
Ramirez, a native Spanish speaker, is proud of her upbringing and Hispanic roots.
“It’s important to me that my daughter speaks Spanish,” she says. “We speak Spanish at home and she already understands it very well.”
GREW UP QUICKLY
While attending Irvine High School, Ramirez got interested in law and the legal system. She thought about becoming an attorney, but being a police officer also crossed her mind. Ramirez graduated from high school in 1992 and attended Irvine Valley College for two years.
In 1995, Ramirez’s education and career goals were put on hold after she experienced a family tragedy when she was 21. After putting her life back together, two years later she re-enrolled at Irvine Valley College, where she also played on the softball team.
“I had to grow up quickly,” Ramirez says.
Ramirez’s experience with law enforcement after the family tragedy rekindled her desire to become a police officer.
“The OPD detectives, the way they treated me, they were very sympathetic,” Ramirez says. “I know they had a job to do, but they treated me as a person and made me feel that they cared about what I was going through. They were phenomenal.
“I wanted to get into a job that would allow me to do exactly what was done for me. I started getting fascinated with every aspect of law enforcement. And I said to myself, ‘OK, this is what I want to do.’”
Ramirez was able to work through her family tragedy, and she later landed a job as an insurance claims adjuster.
“I liked the investigative portion and the litigation aspect of it,” Ramirez says.
Ramirez applied for a police officer position at the Orange PD but initially failed the testing process. At 5 feet, she couldn’t make it over a wall that potential recruits have to successfully scale.
“On my way out, one of the test examiners asked me, ‘Would you be interested in a non-sworn position?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
In 2001, Ramirez left her well-paying job as a claims adjuster to take a part-time police clerk position at the OPD that paid $16 an hour.
“I knew this was the agency I wanted to work for, and knew if I got my foot in the door, I eventually would become a police officer,” she says. “I knew I would make it.”
Within three months, a full-time police clerk position became open, and Ramirez got it.
While working full time in the OPD’s Records Bureau, Ramirez put herself through the Reserve Academy at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. She later also put herself through the Fullerton College Police Academy while continuing to work full time. She graduated in 2003, but was not hired full-time due to a hiring freeze.
She was hired as a part-time reserve police officer while continuing to work in the Records Bureau full-time.
Finally, in 2004, the OPD hired her as a full-time cop.
Today, as a sergeant, Ramirez runs the OPD’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. In that role, which she has held since July 2018, she oversees the Crime Prevention Unit, Volunteer Program, which includes more than 60 volunteers, and the Terrorism Liaison Officer Program.
Ramirez also oversees the OPD’s Citizen’s Academy, CERT (Citizen Emergency Response Training) Program, the Hispanic Outreach Program, and special events such as National Night Out and the police department’s Open House.
Ramirez is particularly proud of the OPD’s Hispanic Outreach Program.
“It’s five weeks long, our Spanish-speaking officers and civilian personnel conduct presentations,” she explains. “Our purpose is to foster a relationship with our Hispanic community so they don’t fear calling the police to report crimes. This program allows us the opportunity to remind them they are members of the community and have equal protection, in a very informal, relaxed atmosphere where we can just talk with them.”
Ramirez was hired as a Firearms and Report Writing instructor at the Fullerton College Police Academy in 2013. She says she was proud to go back and teach at the academy she once attended. Ramirez put her teaching on hold when her daughter was born in 2015. She hopes to someday teach again when her daughter reaches high school.
Both Ramirez’s sister, who is three years younger than her, and her brother, 10 years younger, also graduated from Irvine High School. Her sister got a degree in Child Development from CSuF and is a human resources supervisor at UPS. Her brother owned his own farming company.
One of Ramirez’s favorite assignments at the OPD was working as a detective in the Youth & Service Bureau (November 2013 to January 2015), where she investigated child abuse and sexual assault.
“It was very rewarding to get a confession from someone who committed a heinous crime against a child and was going to go to jail for a very long time,” she says. “And it was rewarding to bring closure to victims.”
Ramirez, whose other OPD assignments have included sex registrant and career criminals detective, auto theft detective, school resource officer, background investigator, and ancillary positions as a field training officer, crisis negotiator and patrol rifle officer, as well as a reserve officer coordinator, also loved working as a patrol officer (March 2004 through June 2010) and as a patrol sergeant (January 2015 through July 2018).
“That’s the heart of law enforcement,” Ramirez says. “You get to interact with the community, fight crime, and minimize violence — all that good stuff.
“There’s a big part of me that still misses that. But I think as you grow at any agency, you start to think about how you can give back to the community, give back to the agency, and how you can help develop other employees so they can accomplish their own success.
“My current position gives me further opportunity to think outside the box about how we can move our department forward and consistently improve.”
Ramirez was voted Supervisor of the Year in 2017 and has been recognized several times throughout her career. She received an Appreciation Award from Chapman University (2017), Unit Distinguished Award (2011), American Legion Community Service Award (2011), Masonic Lodge Community Service Award (2010), Employee of the Quarter twice (2009 & 2001) and Officer of the Month in 2001.
Ramirez owes her success to her parents who have always supported her career decisions, despite their fear of the dangers of police work, and to her fiancé, who consistently supports her in everything she does. Ramirez always has been career driven, but she says her family is priority.
“My family comes first — they are what keeps me going,” she says. “I want to be a good role model for my 4-year-old daughter and 20 year-old stepson, their dad, and I want to make sure they have us to look up to.
“I hope to someday have the same impact on my daughter and stepson that my parents had on me.”