The two sisters excitedly stood on either side of the deputy as their father snapped a picture.
“What’s your favorite part about being a cop?” Trinity Sheltraw, 12, asked Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Fausto Mier, of Lake Forest Police Services.
“Catching bad guys,” responded Mier, one of several deputies who took time to mingle with locals at the OCSD’s “Pizza with the Police” mixer at Mountain Mike’s Pizza on April 25.
The event, held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., gave residents a chance to get to know the women and men who protect the city of nearly 85,000 residents and a much larger daytime population. Lake Forest, with more than 32,000 calls for service in 2018, is second only to Mission Viejo as the OCSD’s busiest contract city.
Taelyn, 9, joined her sister for the photo opp with Mier, who has been in law enforcement for 6 ½ years and has been a patrol deputy in Lake Forest for 1½ years.
The sisters’ father, Timothy, an electrical contractor who does a lot of business in Lake Forest, brought them, his wife, and his other children to the mixer, which was packed. Folks spilled out onto the patio to mingle and eat.
Sheltraw heard about the event on Facebook.
“I love supporting local law enforcement officers,” Sheltraw said. “I think what they do is awesome. I don’t think they get enough appreciation. I make it a habit with my kids to make sure they show their appreciation as well.”
Sheltraw and his family then dug into their pizza — ham and pineapple on one half, double pepperoni on the other.
Mier said he enjoys talking with members of the community in a relaxed setting.
“We have a very, very supportive community,” he said. “It makes it easy to come to work when you’re surrounded by good people all the time…We (OCSD) are very fortunate to have the relationship that we do with the city. I can honestly say on behalf of all our deputies that we’re very eager to go out there and (protect the city).”
Chief of Police Services Lt. Chad Taylor, in his new position for six weeks, is a former patrol deputy in Lake Forest (2002 to 2007) who has been with the OCSD for 22 years.
“It’s a great community,” Taylor said of Lake Forest. “The community is extremely supportive, which in this day and age is very nice to have. To have an event like this where people actually show up is terrific.”
Taylor oversees 31 sworn deputies, five civilian employees, and four community service officers, the latter of whom mostly assist with traffic-related issues. The city has expanded significantly since when he was a patrol deputy, with the annexations of Foothill Ranch and the new community of Baker Ranch.
A Mountain Mike’s customer asked Taylor about volunteering opportunities.
Taylor mentioned the STARS program for retirees, who conduct such duties as park inspections and vacation checks.
“I think the thing that stands out for us right now is the homeless issue,” Taylor said of crime and other issues in Lake Forest, which isn’t known for violent crimes but rather lower-level offenses like property crimes.
Lake Forest has a full-time homeless liaison officer, Sergio Castro, a deputy in Lake Forest since 2015 who got his current assignment a year ago.
“It’s a busy city,” Taylor remarked. “The deputies here are among the finest in the agency. I know the work that they do, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for anyone else.”
Mike James, former chief of police services for Lake Forest, attended the event. He served as the city’s police chief from 1999 to 2005. He has been retired for seven years after a 28-year OCSD career, but remains active in the city, currently serving on the Lake Forest Traffic Commission.
“This is a great way to meet the community, which I’m a big fan of,” said James, who lives in the Portola Hills area of Lake Forest.
“This was my favorite job I had during my entire time in the sheriff’s department,” James added. The big issue back then, he said, was fatal traffic accidents.
“There was no common theme to them,” he said.
Less than three weeks after James became police chief, a gunman murdered Deputy Brad Riches outside a 7-Eleven on Ridge Route Drive. James was in charge of taking care of the various memorials and the Riches family after the brazen June 12, 1999 slaying. The shooter is on Death Row.
Carol DeNembo, vice president of marketing for Mountain Mikes, said the chain loves hosting events like “Pizza with the Police.”
“We really serve the communities that we’re in, and this is a great opportunity to let our community know we support the police,” said DeNembo, a Lake Forest resident . “They’re an integral part in keeping us safe and also just connecting us with everyone and supporting us, so this is something we’re all proud of.”
Catherine Mathes, a real estate agent involved in Neighborhood Watch and a longtime resident, showed up with her family.
“I really care about my neighborhood,” Mathes said. “I’m here to learn more to prevent crime.”
Brittney Oldham, a crime prevention specialist in Lake Forest since 2018, said crime really hasn’t been increasing in the city recently.
“It’s more that awareness has increased because of social media,” Oldham said.
Matthew Leading, a CSO for three years, agreed.
“A lot of people seem to be worried about crime,” Leading said. “I’ve been telling them that things can happen anywhere.”
Mier loves how events like “Pizza with the Police” humanize men and women in law enforcement.
“It’s good for people to see that we’re people, we’re individuals,” Mier said. “We have families and friends, and we know how to love as well.
“When it’s time to take care of business, we’ll take care of business. And when it’s time to be friendly and hang out with everybody, then we will.”