George Vallevieni didn’t set out to become a police officer, but 35 years at the Tustin Police Department turned out to be the career he always wanted.
“It’s a great career,” said the master reserve officer, who retires in July 2018. He added, joking, “The only other thing I ever wanted to do is play shortstop for the Dodgers.”
Vallevieni briefly worked as a police officer for the Gardena Police Department in the early ‘70s. Married with children at a young age, he worked in the hardware industry for about 12 years. When he was looking for a career change, he considered police work once again. He heard on the radio that Tustin PD was hiring a reserve officer.
Vallevieni got the job, and returned to the police academy under TPD sponsorship. He went through the academy at night for nine months while working at the hardware company. In 1982, he began working at the TPD as an unpaid reserve officer. He was hired as a full-time officer in 1984.
After working patrol for five years, Vallevieni set his sights on the traffic division. He was granted a transfer and became a motor officer. In his 12 1/2 years as a motor officer, he estimates investigating 500 to 600 traffic accidents and 23 fatalities. He enjoyed the work.
“I could put the whole investigation together,” he said, adding that as a motor officer he was able to respond to an accident and handle the whole investigative process rather than write a report and hand the investigation over to a detective as he would do in patrol calls.
Vallevieni later transferred into the Professional Standards Division, where he became focused on community relations work.
“I kind of fit right in up there,” he said.
One of his more public accomplishments is the development of the agency’s annual Santa’s Sleigh, which heads into its 18th year this holiday season. Santa’s Sleigh started out as an assignment for Vallevieni to design a community program.
“I came up with the idea … the sleigh,” he said.
With no budget, but many friends in the community, Vallevieni was able to secure $3,000 from the Tustin Community Foundation, reduced pricing for a trailer (half off), and donated services, including a “fire engine red” paint job for the trailer.
After a long search – “There’s no sleigh in California” – he found an antique sleigh in San Juan Capistrano, which he also purchased at a deep discount. A TPD volunteer, who was also an artist, created some artwork on the sleigh. With a passion for woodworking, he was able to do a lot of the work himself. The event, an annual tradition bringing Santa and Mrs. Claus on the sleigh to neighborhoods across Tustin, was small the first year, but has since grown to 15 days.
“We got so many calls of people saying thank you,” he said. “It’s just kind of grown.”
In 2003, Vallevieni retired as a full-time employee and became a master reserve officer, working part-time. He took over the TPD volunteer program, the Citizens’ Academy, and other community events.
He said the Citizens’ Academy gives residents an overview of the police department, including K9 demonstrations, learning about police dispatch, a visit to the coroner’s officer, a ride-along with a patrol officer, and even a visit to the shooting range.
“We give them a kind of a crash course in law enforcement,” he said. “We’ve had nothing but success in this.”
He often finds volunteers for the TPD during the Citizens’ Academy.
“It’s kind of like a 17-week job interview,” he said.
He will miss his work in law enforcement when he retires. He said the agency has changed a lot in his years there.
“It’s gotten better and better and better,” he said.