Tustin Police Captain Robert Wright has an interesting claim to fame.
Not many can say they were promoted by each of the Tustin Police Department’s last three police chiefs.
As a captain, Wright oversees patrol and the criminal investigations unit. His main goal is to make the officers’ jobs easier by ensuring they have the training and equipment they need to do the job well.
“If our officers are well trained and properly equipped it will end up benefiting the community and help keep Tustin safe,” Wright said.
Wright has spent his entire career at Tustin PD.
“This city has everything you’re looking for, enough to keep you busy,” he said. “We have a community that really supports us, and appreciates working with the department on various community outreach programs. However, most of us joined this profession based upon the notion of traditional police work; we all want to go out and catch the bad guy and there are still plenty of opportunities to do that in Tustin.”
Wright is the first in his family with a career in law enforcement. As a kid, he was inspired by watching TV shows such as Adam-12.
“I always thought Reed and Malloy (the main characters from the show) were heroes, they were the good guys and what they did looked really fun and exciting,” Wright said.
With strong early ties to the Tustin community, Wright grew up in North Tustin and attended local schools, graduating from Foothill High School. Although he was always intrigued by a career in law enforcement, after graduating high school he attended Cal State Fullerton where he majored in American Studies, with the intent to become a teacher.
However, the idea of a career as a police officer still lingered inside so when he saw a local OC agency was recruiting for a police officer position, he applied. Wright felt he would always regret it if he didn’t give it a try so he went to the testing and successfully passed the written and physical portions but did not make it past the oral interview.
Wright felt he gave it a shot but since he was unsuccessful, his future career would be in the classroom and not a patrol car. Not much later, a couple of his close friends told him Tustin Police Department was recruiting and they were planning on going to the testing. Because Tustin was his home town, Wright decided to give it one more try and joined his friends at the testing.
“This time things went much better,” he said.
Wright again passed the written and physical tests and was scheduled for an oral interview.
“This time I felt more comfortable since I knew Tustin pretty well. I didn’t feel as nervous as that first time,” he recalled.
After successfully passing that oral interview it was on to a background investigation and finally a meeting with then Tustin Police Chief Doug Franks.
Franks offered Wright a job as a police recruit.
His first official day on the job? His 27th birthday, which happened to also be his first day of the police academy.
“Probably one of, if not the, most memorable birthday,” Wright said. “Not many of my birthdays before or after involved getting yelled at, running through the streets of Garden Grove and doing ‘spirit push-ups’ in front of Garden Grove PD.”
After graduating the academy, Wright and his fellow five other Tustin PD recruits were now police officers and entered the next phase of their career, field training.
“It was very exciting. I remember the smell of the car, getting in there,” he said, recalling that the car was a blue and white Chevy Caprice with a stale scent. “You realize you still have a lot to learn but you are actually doing it.”
Though he didn’t go into teaching, mentoring and training has been a theme throughout his career. After a stint as a patrol officer, he spent 10 years as a field training officer — longer than most in that position.
“You’re teaching the new guys how to do the job well,” Wright said. “You’re helping set the tone for an agency, and your ultimate goal is to make sure that the officer can do the job.”
In 1992, Wright, along with four other Tustin police officers, was deployed to Los Angeles to provide assistance during the riots.
“I still have vivid memories of driving Code 3 from Tustin to Los Angeles,” Wright said. “There were five of us all in one car and as we got close I remember seeing the pillars of smoke across the skyline. We spent two days there. It was pretty chaotic. We assisted by patrolling businesses against looters, providing protection for fire trucks, and guarding a post office as it opened. I’ll never forget that experience.”
In 2000, Wright became the department’s personnel officer, responsible for hiring and background checks.
In 2005, he was promoted to patrol sergeant and gained a new appreciation for police dogs by overseeing the K9 unit. Later he was assigned as the sergeant overseeing the Special Enforcement Detail, now known as the Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement (GRADE) Unit.
“To this day, that was probably the most fun time I had,” Wright said. “That was the most rewarding and most effective assignment. We took a lot of bad people off the street and made the community safer for residents.”
Wright remembers one particular night when his team was conducting a probation search at a residence and ended up arresting three subjects wanted for absconding from parole.
“Those guys had previously been arrested for felony crimes and had been released on parole but refused to report as required and were now on the run, so it was rewarding to find them and send them back to prison,” he said.
After time with the SED Unit, Wright moved on to become the sergeant overseeing the General Investigations Unit.
In 2014, Wright was promoted to lieutenant and put in charge of professional standards, a job which included being the public information officer and spokesperson for the department.
“I truly enjoyed that assignment,” Wright said. “That was an amazing crew, some of the hardest working people at the department.”
He’s done a lot in his time at Tustin Police Department, but the highlight of his career, Wright says, is his wife, his three daughters, and the friends he’s made throughout the department.
“The reason I have them is because of this job,” he said. “I was set up on a blind date by another officer and it’s been going good for over 25 years and counting!”
Wright added, “I’m also very thankful for the friends I’ve made here, they are lifelong friends, Tustin is not just my place of work, it’s my home.”
The city means a lot to Wright. He is involved in a number of community organizations, including the Tustin Public Schools Foundation where he has served as a board member for several years. He currently serves as chairman in charge of the scholarship committee and coordinates the numerous scholarships awarded annually to graduating high school students.
He also has been a volunteer with the Miss America program as an auditor for various local pageants, including the Miss Tustin scholarship program. Wright’s pageant involvement began about 15 years ago as a favor to a Tustin police services officer who asked for help auditing the Miss Garden Grove competition.
When word got out that a Tustin officer was volunteering, he became a hot commodity. He’s since audited pageants in in many Orange County cities as well as some in Los Angeles County.
“I’m so impressed with the young ladies, they are very talented and intelligent,” Wright said. “It’s kind of like our young officers in that they are very smart, talented, and ready for a successful future.”
Wright is full of surprises. He was a student in clown school during a brief moment in college. Though he never became a clown (policing obviously suits him better), he still knows how to make balloon animals.
He’s also a frequent emcee for Tustin police events; was a competitor in the inaugural Mr. Tustin pageant, which helped raise funds for the Miss Tustin scholarship program; and is also an ordained minister, having officiated a number of weddings, including for some of his Tustin Police Department colleagues.
In his decades at the Tustin Police Department, Wright has seen the city develop, including the closure of the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, the creation of the Market Place and District shopping centers, and development of what use to be orange groves and asparagus fields into million-dollar homes.
“I remember riding my bike around those areas as a kid,” he said.
Wright also remembers several changes the department has gone through over his years there, including the switch from blue and white Chevrolet Caprices to black and white Dodge Chargers, and when the department switched from note pads clipped onto the center console to computers.
He added, “the level of technology has progressed leaps and bounds with the computers in the vehicles, body cameras, and even getting rifles in all the police vehicles after the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery shootout.”
“It is the greatest career out there,” Wright said. “You are that thin blue line, the line between chaos and calm. When people need help it’s us that they call, it’s us they turn to and our job is to make sure that we live up to that standard. I realize that not everyone likes the police, but everyone needs the police.”