During his 36 years with the Santa Ana Police Department, including the past 30 as a gang investigator, Detective Jeff Launi has helped combat the problems associated with street gangs from every angle.
Launi, who is planning to retire in March, has been part of directed enforcement patrol teams, worked with nighttime street level gang suppression units, and investigated murders and assaults, often perpetrated by one gang against another.
Other gang crimes such as gambling, extortion, identity theft, and fraud are all part of Launi’s case load.
Launi’s duties include taking phone complaints, reviewing cases, providing expert court testimony, performing follow up investigations for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and making presentations.
While working in the gang unit — one of the largest investigative units in the department and potentially the most dangerous — Launi has also played key roles in helping implement gang injunctions and enact weapons interdiction legislation.
“There is an inherent danger in what we do,” Launi said. “In particular, gangs are probably the worst of the worst. We are chasing gang members through back yards and over fences in the middle of the night. There is a very high propensity to have resistance used against you and use weapons in that resistance. We train to that end.”
Throughout the years, Launi has watched criminal activity evolve, with cybercrimes becoming more prevalent among gangs, the detective said. Advances in crime fighting technology enable law enforcement to stay a step ahead.
While Launi has taken advantage of technology to investigate crime, there is still no substitute for old fashioned detective work, he says. Launi still walks neighborhoods, chatting with storekeepers and engaging with residents on their front lawns.
Meeting with community members where they are is still one of the best ways to gain trust and find out what’s going on around town, Launi said.
“It’s really a good way to meet people, talk to people and find things out and see things,” he said. “I pass out a lot of business cards. I joke to people that half the city has my cell phone number.”
As a records supervisor with the Santa Ana Police Department, Patty Munoz has worked with Launi since 1990. Munoz also grew up in Santa Ana and remembers Launi having a visible presence in the neighborhood.
“What stood out with Jeff is that this guy really likes his job,” Munoz said. “I would see him walking around and interacting and getting to know the community. He’s an outstanding person, an outstanding detective, and I hate to see him retire. When he leaves, it’s going to be kind of a big loss for me.”
Kevin Ruiz, Launi’s former partner, said Launi is thorough and meticulous, always putting in the time it took to build the best possible case to present to the District Attorney’s Office.
“He’s probably the best detective I’ve worked with,” said Ruiz, who partnered with Launi for 15 years before becoming an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office. “He is very caring. He’s done things to really help people out and bent over backwards to help them out. We showed that we cared to the people in the community.”
Launi was working in his family’s home furnishings business when he reached the point of wanting a career that wasn’t quite so routine.
Law enforcement fit that category.
“Every call is different, no matter how routine it may seem,” Launi said. “You can go to six domestic violence calls. They are all domestic violence but each call is different. The way you handle it is different. The people are different. It all comes back to people.”
Launi spent his first two years on the job at the Los Angeles Police Department before making the move to Orange County.
While looking for a job in policing in Orange County, Launi wanted to find an agency that was the closest fit to a big-city department and Santa Ana was the right fit.
“I wanted an agency that investigated real crime,” Launi said. “I wanted activity and to this day, I’m still looking for activity. I found a passion and not only that but in the gang unit.”
The job has been challenging, Launi said, but there is nothing more rewarding than making a case that can be presented to the District Attorney’s Office.
Interacting with people has been the best part of the job, he said.
“People are different so that makes the job fun and exciting,” Launi said. “I have fun at work just about every day. After 36 years, I still look forward to coming to work most days. I don’t want it to end.”