Officers train for it all — the interactions with the public that are light and uplifting often juxtapose with the dark and disturbing.
Cases like the one Tustin Officer Michelle Jankowski handled involving a man suspected of sexually abusing a young girl are the dark and disturbing kind, but they are realities of being an officer, she said.
Staying laser-focused on the goal gets her through the hard stuff.
The goal on this case: getting a confession.
The call came in from a local school just after 2 p.m. Jan. 26.
A 13-year-old girl with long, dark hair was being comforted by her friends when officers arrived.
The girl’s friend reported to school officials that the 13-year-old had been sexually abused by her father.
The teenage victim told police she didn’t know it was wrong, but she questioned why she was the only one of her three siblings suffering the abuse.
After taking a human sexuality course this year in school, the teen confided in a friend, Jankowski said.
“This had been going on for more than five years,” she said. “These kinds of things never get directly reported to police.”
Jankowski and Officer Bonnie Breeze responded and called the family to the school.
When the girl’s mother heard the news, she broke down.
“She had no idea,” Jankowski said. “It was hard to see, but it was comforting to know that the mother was on her child’s side.”
Later that day, the Tustin PD set up surveillance outside the family’s apartment and arrested the man when he returned home from work.
After the arrest, the little girl’s mother told her the man who had been hurting her all those years was not, in fact, her father.
He was her step-father but he and the mother had been together since the teen was a baby.
Now that the man was in custody, Jankowski said they needed him to again admit to the abuse so they could build their case.
The interrogation went on for several hours.
At first, it wasn’t working.
The man leaned back, crossed his arms and looked away. He tried to distance himself from the officers’ pointed questions.
“He was antsy and very nervous,” Jankowski said.
Finally, a confession.
“He told us he only abused her because she wasn’t his blood; it just breaks my heart for this little girl,” Jankowski said. “But that statement, right there, is what we were looking for.
“You feel a sense of calm knowing you finally got the answer you were looking for, but at the same time you feel so upset and so hurt knowing that someone did that to a child. It’s a double-edged sword.”
The 37-year-old man was charged with nine felonies, including unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and lewd acts with a child under age 14. Behind the Badge OC does not want to report the suspect’s name because it could identify the victim in this case.
Tustin Police helped take care of the family after the man’s confession. Officers escorted the mother and children to their apartment so they could collect their belongings.
“The mother felt disgusted, she just wanted to get out of there,” Jankowski said. “I could see the girl had a sense of relief that her “stepdad” wasn’t there. She would actually be able to sleep at night instead of him coming into her bedroom.”
Jankowski, who has been with Tustin PD for two years, in February was honored by Police Chief Charles Celano with the Police Officer of the Month Award for her work on this case.
“Knowing that I can make a difference and get him out of her life so she can begin to have a somewhat normal life is the most important part,” she said. “I want justice for that child.”