The Code 7 Cafe in the basement of the Santa Ana Police Department has what could be called an institutional look, with shades of gray, white, and black in the dining space.
Just six months ago, Santa Ana Police Department Director of Food Services Raquel Olamendi, was sitting with Chief of Police David Valentin staring at a blank white wall set apart from the back wall. Once upon a time there had been some signage, but now the wall was a blank space blending into the room. Olamendi brought up the topic to the Chief.
“She said it would be nice if we brought some color in,” Valentin recalled. “We sit at these bland tables and look at nothing.”
From there, it was quick work.
“This was always on my heart,” said Olamendi. “I take pride in giving the officers the best experience.”
Sgt. Maria Lopez, the department’s public information officer, reached out to the Santa Ana Unified School District and art teacher Maricela Pena at Lorin Griset Academy in Santa Ana.
Pena connected with local muralists Kimberly Duran and Bud Herrera, co-founders of the Heavy Collective, who have collaborated on more than 100 murals, many of which dominate large spaces in Santa Ana.
The Code 7 Café now features the ubiquitous “heart” sign formed by steepled thumbs and curled fingers coming together. Above the hands are the words “Community First,” which have become the motto to the department’s approach to policing in the city.
The idea for the mural was intentionally student-driven. Students in Pena’s classes were encouraged to provide ideas in art and writing about what they would like to see represented.
“We all share love of the people,” Duran said. “We wanted to spread love, peace, and unity.”
Duran and Herrera said they were hoping to build off the new relationships to create mentorships and internships for budding artists. Among those who contributed to the project were students Jesus Cruz, Isaiah Rodriguez, Immanol Perez, and Allegra and Alonzo Ruesga.
In a statement about the painting’s meaning, the artists wrote, “The colors are to provide a warm, kind and inviting atmosphere to the space, highlighting the love of the community in Santa Ana.”
Cruz, 17, who interned on the project got his introduction to community art through the project.
“I was a little iffy because it was, you know, police,” he said.
However, after finishing he admitted, “It’s a dream.”
“I knew this was going to be fast-paced,” Pena said. “They’re the type I could go to. I asked for a couple of concepts, and they came back with, like, 10 ideas.”
Pena says she can see the project paying dividends with further collaboration.
“We talked about closing gaps,” she said of police and kids. “They are a part of that.”
Asked about the students’ potential, Pena said she saw futures in the arts or other fields where they can use their artistic mindsets.
“I see them as being creative, period,” she said.
Valentin says the mural is the first phase of outreach to students. He hopes to start a Lunch with a Cop program to invite students to the cafe on a regular basis to meet and engage with officers.
Olamendi offers to sweeten the pot, so to speak.
“I will make pozole,” she said.
About 40 to 50 officers from the police department visited the cafe for the presentation and unveiling of the mural.
“This is long overdue,” said Deputy Chief Sergio Enriquez. “This speaks to our commitment to the community and to keep them first.”