Det. Pam Hardacre has a guess what her legacy will be when she leaves the Tustin PD.
“I probably won’t be remembered for the many people I put away for life but instead, ‘Remember that girl who liked pink?’”
It’s true that pink is Hardacre’s signature color — she wears it and decorates her office with it.
Her desk in the investigations bureau of the Tustin Police Department is practically drowning in varying shades of the hue.
Pink stuffed animals, a pink Louisville Slugger baseball bat, Hello Kitty figurines, a pink feather boa and even a half-eaten box of pink and white cupcakes were taking over her cubicle on a recent Friday.
“Not all of it is mine,” she pointed out. “Well, it’s mine, but I didn’t buy all of this.”
It’s a kitschy thing her colleagues have come to embrace and even exploit when they get the chance, helping Hardacre fill her shelves with pink signage and chachkies.
It is very unlikely that this will be Hardacre’s lasting mark on the department after serving 30 years with the Tustin PD — the first female in the department’s history to do so.
Hardacre, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tustin Police Officers’ Association’s annual awards in January, will retire in October and her hope is simple: “I want to be remembered as somebody who made a difference,” she said.
For the dozens of victims she’s helped and the hundreds of Explorers she’s mentored throughout her career, it seems that legacy is already cemented in place.
The daughter of a Boeing engineer and a stay-at-home mom, Hardacre wasn’t exposed to law enforcement growing up.
A personal law course at Orange Coast College that covered law enforcement and courts piqued her interest.
“I thought, ‘I kind of like this criminal stuff — burglaries and robberies and thinking like a crook’,” Hardacre said. “A friend of ours from church was a captain at the Anaheim PD so I spoke with him about it.”
Hardacre started as a cadet at age 20 with Anaheim in 1982 while she attended college.
In 1986, she tested to enter the academy and ran the physical agility test while fighting the flu.
Hardacre didn’t plan to run the course that day and was only there to cheer on a friend. When she arrived, she figured she might as well go for it.
She passed, but her friend didn’t.
Hardacre was hired by Tustin PD in 1986 and shipped off to the Golden West Academy for training.
The academy, as any veteran cop will attest, was different then. It was a lot tougher, some might say.
Hardacre was forced to chop her shoulder-length blonde hair so it didn’t touch her ears or her collar.
On more than one occasion, she was mistaken for a man.
Being the only woman in her academy class, the mix-up wasn’t surprising but, at times, it was embarrassing.
Tactical officers would taunt her (which is part of the academy gig, on some level, for everyone).
“Why are you here? We don’t want women in law enforcement,” they would yell.
“Back in ’86, women weren’t as readily accepted into law enforcement as they are now so I took a lot of crap,” she said. “Nothing I did was right.”
She was put on the academy’s “Hog Squad” — a group of recruits who were considered overweight.
Hardacre, slender by anyone’s standards, was thrown in the group because she was a woman.
They’d rummage through her lunch, pull out any food that was considered fattening and take it away.
“They can’t and they don’t do that now,” she said.
Hardacre never thought about quitting. She worked harder and pushed herself further.
“I absolutely think I was held to a different standard,” she said.
One area where the tactical officers and fellow recruits couldn’t rib her too hard: physical training.
“I used to beat a lot of the guys when we ran,” she said. “I wasn’t a lump, so they didn’t pick on me probably as much as they wanted to.
“Maybe they realized, ‘She’s not incapable of doing this job.’”
A few years before her 50th birthday, then-Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan swung by Hardacre’s desk to tell her she’d be the first woman to stay past age 50 and that she had a shot at being the first female to complete a full 30 years, if she stayed on.
“Could I have gone four years ago? Yeah, but this is what I wanted,” said Hardacre, 54. “I wanted to go out on my terms, not because everybody else says I should.”
Hardacre liked to do what others said she couldn’t and achieve things that hadn’t been done before.
“I’m not the kind that just takes the easy way out,” she said.
She’s also not the kind who cares to talk about herself, preferring instead to dish out self-deprecating one-liners — her quick-witted, dry sense of humor a stark contrast to the shy kid she used to be.
A byproduct of the job, Hardacre said.
“This job is not for the quiet and shy, you have to learn to adapt to everything,” she said. “There are times to be quiet and listen, but there are times you need to get very vocal.”
When Hardacre started with the Tustin PD in 1986, she was one of just a handful of women serving in sworn positions.
“The biggest hurdle I faced was probably acceptance into this job and getting the idea across that I wasn’t going away,” she said.
When did she clear that hurdle?
“Well, it’s been 30 years eventually I think I will be accepted,” Hardacre joked.
In her three-decade tenure with Tustin PD, Hardacre has served in a variety of assignments including patrol, undercover narcotics and investigations.
She is also Tustin PD’s first and only female K9 handler, holding the position from 1991 to 1998.
Hardacre also has served as an Explorer Advisor for the last 15 years — a post she takes a lot of pride in.
“I like to mold and motivate these young kids and try to get them to make good decisions,” she said. “I always tell them the decisions you make today can and will affect you for the rest of your life.”
For the last nine years, she’s worked in investigations mostly handling sexual assault cases.
“Those cases can really change you,” she said. “But hopefully instead I’ve been able to change my survivors.”
Though she’s won awards and received much recognition over her career, she hasn’t kept track of those things.
“I’m not a big cop-shop talker. I don’t keep those things in my mind,” she said. “But there are some cases and people that I will remember forever.”
Like the 12-year-old boy who brought her flowers and chocolate to thank her after she arrested a family member who had been sexually abusing him, or the woman who was sexually abused as a teen and is now happily married with a family of her own.
“It’s always nice to see when a survivor has moved forward and is getting their life back on track,” she said.
As Hardacre approaches the end of her career, she said she is already thinking about her retirement party but doesn’t have any big plans after that.
She’ll dedicate more time to running (she recently took on her first half-marathon in New Orleans and finished in 2:29) and might grow her fur family.
Hardacre has three rescued German shepherds — Gigi, Nala and Angel — and can’t guarantee she won’t rescue more.
“I’m a foster mom failure,” she said. “I always say I’ll just foster these dogs until they can find a home, but then end up keeping them.”
She also plans to be around Tustin PD by serving as a Master reserve Officer.
Although she’ll have a pulse on what’s happening in the department, it won’t be the same.
“I’ll miss the adrenaline,” she said. “I’ll miss that rush and just being a part of it and just being able to help. I think I’m most proud of my values and putting a lot of people in jail.
“Hopefully I made a difference by getting them off the streets.”