Stars and stripes filled the Community Room at the Santa Ana Police Department as Santa Ana bid farewell, or rather “See You Later,” according to Deputy Chief Sergio Enriquez, to one of their own.
The stars and stripes weren’t just on the American flag, but on the collars, shoulders and sleeves of those packed into the room for Chief David Valentin. Chiefs and retired chiefs from neighboring communities, along with sergeants, corporals, and rank-and-file officers, filled the seats, stood shoulder to shoulder along all available wall space, and spilled into an anteroom.
All were on hand to celebrate a man who rose from the notorious Brook Street neighborhood in Central Santa Ana to become the city’s first homegrown top cop. Valentin, who weathered the vicious political storms and personal attacks that swamped several of his predecessors, leaves the department on his own terms, after 33 years and six at the helm.
“It was a bumpy ride, but we got there,” said Valentin, who repeatedly wiped his eyes through two hours of testimonials from coworkers and associates and met each speaker with a hug afterward, often punctuated with resounding backslaps.
“I’m rarely speechless, but you got me … you got me,” Valentin said.
A video screen in the corner of the room displayed a picture of Valentin accompanied by the famous quote by Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Those words set an appropriate theme for the day.
“We’re celebrating a man, his family, and his journey,” Enriquez said.
“This is something that hasn’t happened in four decades,” he added, referring to Valentin leaving on his own terms, rather than resigning or leaving under a cloud. “We want to send off the Jefe with class.”
Speakers praised Valentin for his resolve and his ability to rise above controversies and criticisms, particularly in pitched battles against the police officers’ union and its leadership.
Several speakers cited Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, which praises the man who fights for his beliefs, win or lose, above critics and, “timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Speaker after speaker shared the importance of Valentin’s family in bolstering him and the pride he showed every time he spoke of his wife, Doreen, and daughters, Michaela and Sierra.
Valentin’s oldest daughter, Michaela, said her dad rose from the difficulty of life on Brook Street in a single-parent home, got an education, and “became the change you wanted to see. You made history.”
Commander Oscar Lizardi spoke of Valentin’s willingness to defend him. Lizardi was formerly in charge of the department’s Major Enforcement Team (MET), which became embroiled in controversy for alleged gang-like behavior and misconduct — claims that were later largely dismissed by an independent probe.
“You stood by us and have spoken against this evil,” Lizardi said. “Most important, you’re walking out on your terms.”
“You were on your own team,” said retired SAPD Officer Johnny Rodriguez. “We don’t leave on our knees, brother, we leave on our feet.”
Assistant Chief Robert Rodriguez, who Valentin handpicked to become Acting Chief, said Valentin’s effect on the department went beyond enduring political and personal attacks and remaining focused on what matters.
“Thanks to you, our team will never lose our True North,” he said.
Gifts and presentations were also part of the goings-on. A video-slideshow drew hoots for its opening shot of a young, mustachioed Valentin as a rookie cop, and was accompanied by Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.”
Lizardi and Commander Mat Sorenson presented Valentin with a plaque from the SWAT team.
Sierra and Michaela Valentin presented their dad with a desk nameplate that read “Chief Papa,” for “when you take over Michaela’s room, not mine,” Sierra Valentin joked.
The staff also presented a five-foot shadow box decorated with badges, chief stars, and nicknamed “The Behemoth.”
In addition to the serious talk about ideals and fortitude, there was humor injected.
Former SAPD Captain George Saadeh said of the Chief’s hard-charging younger days, that he has $100 for anyone “if they were ever able to catch David Valentin when he was in a pursuit.”
Michaela Valentin joked that while her dad made sure to get to her various sports and school events, he also made sure to “secure the perimeter.”
City of Orange Chief Dan Adams, who was part of Valentin’s Police Academy Class, gave Valentin a QR code that he could use to make a contribution to the Orange PD Volunteer Program.
Doreen Valentin met her future husband when he was a young cop on a ride-along. At the mention of the ride-along, the Chief leaned back in his chair, smiling and puffing out his chest. Doreen went on to describe a drug arrest, domestic violence, and home hostage situation in just a half a shift.
“It was a rollercoaster day in and day out,” she said. “I realized you must be called (to the profession), otherwise I don’t know how you could go on. He showed up every day and did the best he could do.”
In wrap-up remarks, Valentin referred to the “Community First” slogan he coined and a request of the officers who remain.
“Stop, pause, and reflect on why you’re here. It’s to serve,” he said.