The day of Lieutenant Steve Costanzo’s retirement ceremony from the La Habra Police Department his son, Sgt. Michael Costanzo, received a job offer from the department.
“I was very pleased that he (was) hired there,” said Steve, who worked at the La Habra Police Department for nearly 31 years. “He got to work with some of the people I had worked with, actually some of the people I trained. He had some knowledge about the city and the goings-on before he even got hired.”
Though Steve didn’t encourage his kids to become police officers and tried to keep his work and home life separate, his worlds collided and inspired Michael’s path to law enforcement.
Steve was taking Michael (about 10 years old) and his older sister, Janice (about 12 years old), to their grandmother’s in La Habra ahead of a shift at the police department when he noticed a young man in the neighbor’s garage.
“The minute I yelled, ‘hey!’ (the man) got on a bicycle,” Steve recalled. “I ran after this guy, I gave him a push, and he fell into ivy. He had just burglarized their garage.”
Michael remembers the incident vividly.
“I’m like, ‘holy cow, what’s going on?’ My dad’s got this guy on the ground, he’s got his arm pinned behind his back, and he’s saying, ‘Go tell those neighbors to call 911,’” Michael said. “I thought it was amazing. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That was a heroic moment to see your dad act that way.”
From that moment on, Michael set his sights on becoming a police officer. At age 21 (the same age Steve met his wife and applied to La Habra Police Department), Michael sent his applications and put himself through the academy.
His father was his biggest supporter, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to make breakfast, prepare lunch, take his son’s uniform to the dry cleaners, and help him study for tests.
Michael’s hard work paid off. His first job offer came from the La Habra Police Department, where he’s worked now for 13 years.
“I’ll definitely stay here throughout my career,” he said. “I enjoy the people here and the dynamic that we have here is really good.”
Though they never worked at the agency at the same time, Steve kept tabs on Michael though his former colleagues.
“Smaller cities like La Habra might not seem special to some, but it’s special to me because it’s my hometown,” said Steve, who now lives in Montana. “Even to this day I feel fortunate to have been hired by them.”
Michael takes after his father in several ways – colleagues say they have a similar laugh, they both gesture with their hands as they speak, and they’re both storytellers.
When Michael was a child, Steve supervised the K9 unit and would bring the dogs to his kids’ elementary school for demonstrations. Now, Michael is the sergeant overseeing the K9 unit. He’s also worked in the gang unit, special investigations, as a detective, and on patrol.
Over his career, Steve worked as a K9 supervisor, jail supervisor, traffic sergeant, narcotics, patrol, internal affairs, was the police association president, and more. He was great at making fair, big-picture decisions that would benefit the team as a whole, Michael said.
“The idea of your dad going to work with a superhero cape is what I pictured him doing back in the day,” Michael said.
Steve is most proud of catching a bank robber when his knowledge of the area (his mother banked there) led to the man’s capture.
A call came in reporting a robbery in progress at Security Pacific Bank at Beach and La Habra boulevards. Steve knew there was an alley behind the bank, so he parked his patrol car along the alley where he could see the bank’s back exit.
“All of a sudden on La Habra Boulevard comes a guy with a shotgun and a suitcase,” Steve recalled. “As I was chasing him the dye packs must have gone off and the suitcase flew open and all this money came out.”
Steve ordered the man to stop, but the robber kept running toward a car on the other side of the alley. Another sergeant caught the driver and robber coming out on La Habra Boulevard, he said.
“That was very satisfying,” Steve said. “I knew where the guy might go, and sure enough there he was… he wasn’t the world’s smartest crook.”
Michael has the same instincts. On his first day on the job he wound up chasing after a man who’d just crashed a motorcycle following a police pursuit with Michael and his training officer.
“I ended up catching the guy and I was very proud of what I had just done,” Michael said.
His most memorable was a homicide case that he had the unique experience of getting to follow from the initial call all the way through to conviction. Michael was a new detective in 2009 when the son of a police officer, Joshua Mora-Rodriguez, was found stabbed to death in a gang-related homicide.
“(I had) the pressure of wanting to make sure that case was done right, and ultimately getting the convictions of all three (suspects), that was one of the highlights of my career so far,” Michael said.
Steve was impressed.
“He is 10 times the cop I ever was and I am very, very proud of him,” Steve said.