Officer Natalie Garcia has already made her mark on the Santa Ana Police Department as a key member in the creation of a Pre-Academy for new recruits, a leader on Chief David Valentin’s 30-for-30 campaign to attract more female officers, and a member of the social media team providing crucial information to the public.
As Garcia, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, settles into her new office space at the Santa Ana Police Department, she seeks to bring effective communication and transparency to the department as its new PIO, with a unique understanding of the community she serves.
For Garcia, the move is filled with new challenges but much opportunity.
“I am honored and grateful to have been selected as our Department’s new PIO. As someone who dreamt of being a Santa Ana Police Officer at the start of their law enforcement career, I am humbled to be the ‘face’ of SAPD, but most importantly, I am here as a reflection and a resource for the community we serve,” she said.
Garcia comes to the role with an appreciation for its importance. She also looks forward to forging deeper positive relationships with the community. She already has some experience, serving as a spokeswoman on a tragic hit-and-run, the case of a stolen parrot and more. She said she benefits from the department’s already strong community relations and the mentorship of former PIO SGT. Maria Lopez, Media Relations Coordinator, Yessenia Aspeitia, and Chief Valentin’s Executive Assistant, Elizabeth Plotnik.
“I recognize there’s going to be many challenges, but I’m here for it. I have a great support system both at work and at home who I attribute my success to,” Garcia said.
Recently, she worked on the department’s Social Media and Recruitment Team, and has been featured in viral social media videos. She has also been involved in community events, engagement, and outreach, which dovetail nicely into her PIO duties.
Garcia has also been running point the 30-for-30 campaign, which looks to increase the percentage of female sworn officers in the department to 30 percent by 2030. Santa Ana is one of more than 325 agencies in the U.S. involved in the 30-by-30 Initiative, founded in 2018, and is making national headlines for its efforts, featuring in a soon-to-be published Christian Science Monitor article.
It’s no small feat.
As of May, 34 of Santa Ana’s 355 sworn officers were female. Nationally, about 12 percent to 13 percent of full-time sworn officers are female and only 3 percent are in leadership positions.
Garcia has been a welcoming face for SAPD for women interested in police work. She and fellow officers have visited colleges, career fairs and community events promoting policing as a career path. She was also part of the first all-female team from the department that ran in the 120-mile Baker to Vegas law enforcement run.
Garcia represents a new attitude among police departments that promotes officers as guardians of the community as much as enforcers of laws. She brings a fresh authenticity and can connect with both the community she grew up in and the police department that protects the community members.
Garcia believes she is particularly suited to this role as a Hispanic woman.
“Our community is predominately Hispanic,” she said. “Working patrol and being able to communicate in Spanish to help people as if I were talking to my family members, is rewarding.”
This helps her form relationships between the community and the police department.
Garcia’s roots are in Santa Ana. In addition to visiting her grandparents throughout much of her childhood on the Westside of Santa Ana, Garcia’s mom has been a teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District for over 20 years.
“I never thought I’d be a police officer,” she said, although she majored in Criminal Justice at Cal State Long Beach. Garcia’s plans after graduation were to continue into law school. However, interning at a law office and being desk-bound with paper work did little to engage Garcia.
A defining moment
When she went on a ride-along with SAPD, a switch was flipped.
“That was my first introduction to policing and it left a last impression,” Garcia said.
The activity, the pace, the variety, all of that appealed to her.
Part of the patrol area of her ride-along overlapped where Garcia grew up, giving her a nostalgic experience.
Garcia said she went on at least a half-dozen ride-a-longs with different departments. All of them strengthened her interest in police work and “every one of them drew me back to here,” she said of Santa Ana.
When the time came to apply for departments, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was hiring, so she signed with them, went through the O.C. Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy Police Academy, and spent two years as a Deputy assigned to the Central Women’s Jail.
She values the time she spent as a Sheriff’s Deputy and is thankful to the department for giving her the opportunity, though “my end goal was here (in Santa Ana),” she said.
Garcia was hired by SAPD in 2019. Since then, she has worked patrol on every watch and was on the Quality of Life Team before moving over to the Social Media and Recruitment Team.
She was a key member in helping establish the department’s new Pre-Academy, which prepares newly hired officers for the rigors they will face once they enter the Police Academy.
Garcia said she is excited as she settles into the job.
“Every day brings something different, she said. “As PIO, I hope to be creative and innovative, and bring light to the department.”