In her 20-plus years with the Santa Ana Police Department, Commander Sandra Gatt has taken on multiple roles in nearly every bureau, from patrol to the detective unit to field training, to internal affairs.
In January, Gatt took on her newest role, becoming the first sworn female commander of SAPD’s Jail Operations Bureau, where she oversees an average of 400 inmates and a staff of close to 100.
The Santa Ana Police Department’s Jail Operations Bureau is made up two divisions: Jail Administration and Support Services Division and Jail Operations Division.
“It’s a new position, a new experience,” Gatt said. “I’m learning something new every day about the jail. I work with some great people. I learn from all of them.”
In previous roles, Gatt has overseen the watch commander, CSI, crime analysis and court liaison operations. Along the way, Gatt has looked at every new position as an opportunity for growth.
“I can’t say I enjoyed one position over the other,” said Gatt, who had her heart set on a career in policing even as a child. “They were all different and the best part about every position is the people that you get to know.”
Gatt has spent the first few months at her new post, reviewing policies and procedures, meeting with the staff members and getting feedback on ways to improve.
“I’m not going to say I’ll make these great changes but any little change for the better, that’s what I want to do,” she said. “If I leave a little bit of an influence with my supervisors who can then pass it on to their personnel, then I’ve done my job here.”
Gatt confers every day with Jail Correctional Manager Jaime Manriquez.
Having spent his 23 years with Santa Ana Police Department working in Jail Operations, Manriquez arguably knows the jail better than anyone.
Manriquez, who is responsible for assisting with jail operations and support services, said he can already see a difference in day-to-day operations since Gatt took her post.
“We work together as a team,” Manriquez said. “Her perspective and her work ethic that she brought from next door is definitely making positive changes in the corrections environment.”
Gatt took over the position during the coronavirus pandemic, when most programs offered to the inmates were forced to shut down.
As conditions are continuing to improve, Manriquez and Gatt are spending much of their time developing plans to bring jail operations back to the way they were pre-pandemic.
“There are a lot of conversations, sometimes two and three times a day, when we are discussing how to make sure we are doing the safest possible operations for our staff, our inmates, and our community,” Manriquez said.
During normal times, inmates can receive visitors.
They can earn a GED, take computer and parenting classes and even practice yoga and learn techniques for meditating.
Gatt said the desire to help people is the main reason she pursued a career in law enforcement in the first place.
Working within the community, Gatt has had the opportunity to do exactly that.
In overseeing the jail, Gatt gets to help people in another way.
“I’ve enjoyed every assignment because every assignment is a new step in my career,” she said. “Now I am in a position where I can help people meet their goals. That is what I enjoy most about my position. I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.”