La Habra’s friendly community and smaller police department were major draws for Officer Yvonne Viramontes, a recent addition to the La Habra Police Department.
“Everybody says ‘hi’ to you and little kids come up to you,” Viramontes said. “It was a very police-friendly city and just welcoming.”
Viramontes, who joined the La Habra police force in October, spent nine years at the Delano Police Department as an officer and investigator before relocating south.
She first became interested in law enforcement as a teen, when her older sisters were studying criminal justice on their path to becoming correctional officers.
“I used to read their books and was just kind of intrigued by it,” she said. Viramontes attended the pre-academy twice a week while working toward her own criminal justice degree. “That just took me straight into the police academy.”
At 4 feet, 11 inches, Viramontes is the shortest officer in the department. But she hasn’t let her height hinder her path to success.
“I had to give it a try and I worked for it,” she said. “If I let my height be an issue or me as a female be an issue, then it’s going to be an issue. But if you’re confident in what you do, what you can do, you can overcome that. You just get the job done.”
Since coming to La Habra, she’s worked several memorable calls, including a carjacking that started as a family disturbance call with a man acting strange and jumping out the back window of the family’s home in the morning. When Viramontes heard a carjacking description on the radio, she recognized the suspect.
Later that day, two nearby agencies reported liquor store thefts matching the suspect description, and the man eventually was arrested by military police at Camp Pendleton.
“You start putting the pieces together,” Viramontes said.
On another recent case, her ability to speak Spanish came in handy when a man involved in a domestic disturbance spoke only Spanish. She was able to talk him out of the house and no one was injured.
“I look at everybody as a human being,” she said. “Whether they commit a crime or not, we still treat people with respect and I’m always up front and tell people the way it is.”
The way you talk to people, she says, goes a long way toward creating respect.
“I think that everybody thinks we’re out to get them in a negative perspective,” she said. “Even with the juveniles you see less cooperation than we get when it’s just a simple contact and it tends to escalate a lot faster than before.”
In her time on the force, she’s also seen laws change to let people out of jail sooner or change crimes to a misdemeanor that previously carried a higher penalty. The number of transients she encounters on the job also has increased.
“The department still has the resources to help them to get off the streets and provide them with information and a home, clothing,” she said. “It’s not something we just want to ignore.”
As a former lifeguard, loss-prevention officer, and security officer for a casino’s entertainment venue, she’s happy these days to be on patrol, getting to know the city of La Habra, its residents, and others at the La Habra Police Department.
“I like the fact that you get to know everybody you’re working with as not just a work relationship, but you also develop some friends,” Viramontes said. “I like to be known by my name and just not a badge number, and at La Habra Police Department, that’s the way it is.”