Tracking down leads, interviewing witnesses and solving crime is all part of the day-to-day life of a detective.
Ralph Lanternier is not a detective, but he did all those things — and he did them for free.
Lanternier, 88, retired this month from the Huntington Beach Police Department after serving as a volunteer for 20 years.
More than a decade of his service was spent in the detectives’ bureau.
“He was overqualified,” said Det. Phil Gasca, who worked with Lanternier for 14 years. “He was way too intelligent to be a cop, but thankfully we got him in his latter years and he was able to help us out.”
Lanternier, a retired engineer, was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y.
He did not see any combat because his two older brothers already were fighting — one in Europe with the Army and one in the South Pacific with the Navy.
“I didn’t realize at the time, but they did to me what they did in that movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’,” he said. “My brothers were already there, so they wouldn’t let me go.”
Lanternier was stationed at the Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago where he jokes he was integral in ensuring no Japanese submarine infiltrated Lake Michigan — a job that was not without some risk.
“People always ask me if I had any wartime injuries, and I do,” he said. “I fell off a barstool once and injured my knee.”
When Lanternier finished his service, he returned to Syracuse to obtain an engineering degree.
He married his wife, Jennie, in November 1953 and moved to Huntington Beach in 1974.
He retired from engineering in 1989 and helped a friend run a business for several years before signing on as a volunteer for HBPD in 1994.
Lanternier said he wanted to stay active but didn’t want a sleepy volunteer gig.
Law enforcement seemed the perfect fit.
“I admired the police and I always respected them,” Lanternier said. “It was interesting and fun.”
He first served as a patrol volunteer where he wrote tickets for parking violations, performed vacation checks and served in a public relations role for the department.
After several years in patrol, Lanternier was chosen among 30 volunteers to serve in the detectives’ bureau.
He first worked in property crimes, including burglary and fraud cases.
Lanternier helped solve a crime that involved a group of women targeting elderly women and stealing their purses at 99 Cent stores across Orange County.
He also helped track down a man who was posing as a real estate agent to solicit money from his victims by issuing fake property deeds and taking down payments.
Lanternier said the man was swindling the money to save up for a sex change operation.
While partnered with Gasca, Lanternier sifted through more than 100 cases every month to determine which needed immediate attention.
“If I didn’t have him I would not have been able to handle this caseload,” Gasca said. “Every case I had, he would read.”
He also helped file reports and investigated leads on many cases.
“He really deserves recognition for all that he’s done,” Gasca said. “He, and all the volunteers, are giving back to the community.
“It’s nothing but positive.”
Lanternier said he doesn’t know what’s next, but his life is much quieter after serving with HBPD.
“I’ve had a great life and this is a great part of it,” Lanternier said. “Working with Phil was the best.
“These are good people.”