You may not know Jack, but a big clue is his ride:
A royal-blue, 1985 Camaro IROC-Z, the one modeled after the International Race of Champions. The back license plate reads, “JAXTER.”
Jack Nanigian’s other ride is a 1999 Harley Davidson.
“I’m kind of old school,” says Nanigian, a 44-year fixture at the Orange PD who, since medically retiring in January 1999, has served as a part-time background investigator in the agency’s Support Services division.
For Nanigian, 68, it’s nearly a full-time job – just what he likes.
And, yes, he is old school.
Nanigian has a flip phone and abhors social media.
“It’s stupid,” he says of Facebook. “All you do is post stuff that makes somebody else angry. Then they counter-post something that makes you angry.”
Nanigian has sported the same stache most of his adult life.
He’s a no-nonsense cop who uses words like “goober” to describe those in law enforcement who fail to meet his high standards of hard work, integrity and honesty – not that the Orange PD has any issues.
Quite the contrary, Nanigian says.
“In my 44 years here, it’s the best it’s ever been,” he says of OPD’s leadership, including Chief Tom Kisela, named to the agency’ top post in April 2016.
Working with two other part-time background investigators and a full-time one, Nanigian’s job is to make sure less-than-stellar applicants – for both sworn and professional staff positions – never make it through the agency’s lengthy and detailed hiring process.
“I tell (applicants) that if you don’t like being spit at, shot at, and hated by most of the public, then go find another job,” Nanigian says.
The OPD, he says, has a great track record of making good hires.
“We don’t want to be on the 11 o’clock news,” he says. “We don’t want to be in the civil courts. Lawsuits and bad hires are just really devastating to an agency.”
Nanigian wraps his knuckles on his old-school wooden desk.
“We’ve been really lucky,” he says.
Nanigian will tell you he’s been the lucky one to spend four-plus decades at the agency where he started as a reserve officer after managing a tire store owned by his father-in-law and starting his own landscaping business.
Required to work a minimum of 16 hours a week as a reserve officer, Nanigian instead put in 40 hours a week because he found law enforcement work so interesting and fascinating.
After a month of working as a reserve officer, a captain cornered Nanigian.
“Hey, you really like this, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Nanigian responded.
“I see you’re working here 40 hours a week for free.”
“Yeah, this is great.”
“How would you like to go to the academy full time as a regular officer?”
“I’ve been trying to do that for two years.”
“OK, next week we want to send you to the LAPD Academy.”
The academic portion of the academy was easy for Nanigian, who with his family moved from Colorado to Orange when he was 15.
The physical part of the academy was another story. Being a wrestler at Orange High School helped.
Nanigian, 5 feet 8, started the Los Angeles PD Academy weighing 157 pounds and came out weighing 136 – all lean muscle – when he graduated in November 1975 as the No. 8 recruit out of a class of 64.
Then, he had to learn the Orange PD way.
Nanigian used revolvers in the LAPD academy; the Orange PD used Smith & Wesson automatic weapons.
L.A. used two-officer patrol cars. The OPD used one-officer cars.
Since Nanigian has been an OPD officer, the population of Orange has more than doubled.
“I remember as a kid growing up here, I could hardly go anywhere on the street without seeing Orange PD officers,” he says. “Back then, they didn’t have much to do. Today, they go from call to call to call.”
Nanigian spent his first four years at the OPD in patrol, and then became a traffic investigator. A motorcycle enthusiast since he was 15, Nanigian then became a motor officer, an assignment he held for eight years.
“The beauty of motors is I lived in town, and at 6:30 in the morning when my shift began, I would open my garage door and pick up my radio and say, ‘OK, I’m in service.’ Then I’d back my motorcycle out of the garage and go to work.”
After motors, Nanigian investigated juvenile crimes. He also spent time as a school resource officer at his alma mater, Orange High.
Lt. Fred Lopez, a watch commander and 24-year veteran at the OPD, worked years ago with Nanigian in patrol.
“His nickname is ‘Smiling Jack,’” Lopez says. “He was and is the kind of person that is always smiling and happy. He always came to work with a positive attitude and friendly and approachable demeanor, and never had anything but good things to say about everyone he came in contact with.”
Nanigian’s other assignments, before medically retiring with a bad back in 1999, were working as a gang investigator and serving another stint in patrol.
Nanigian’s back feels much better these days, thanks to physical therapy and not having to wear heavy equipment on his belt while spending hours in a patrol car.
He thrives on conducting background investigations.
“It’s so interesting to delve into a person’s complete personal life without a warrant,” Nanigian says. “They sign a notarized waiver that allows me to snoop away.”
The OPD, like all law enforcement agencies, wants candidates with good character – no illegal activity in the past, no drug use, no bad credit, etc.
“And you’ve got to have something up here,” says Nanigian, pointing to his head. “It’s not just being able to handle the physical aspects of the job.”
Above all, honesty is critical to becoming hired by the OPD.
“We have a saying in this business,” Nanigian says. “’If you lie, you die.’”
Only 1 to 2 percent of applicants are hired as police officers, Nanigian notes.
“Some can’t get over the (obstacle) wall, some can’t pass the oral interviews, some fail the medical or psych exams, some can’t get through field training.”
Making a good hire is priceless, says Nanigian, who has two grown children from a previous marriage. His wife, Annette, is a retired teacher.
The two are active at Life Christian Church in Orange and plan to travel a lot.
Last fall, the two went to Greece – the first time Nanigian has travelled outside the U.S., besides Mexico.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, second to the police academy,” says Nanigian, referring to the crazy-fast taxi rides he and his wife had to endure.
Speaking of rides, Nanigian gets ribbed regularly about his 1985 Camaro, which has more than 200,000 miles on it.
“They tease me about that car, because half the time it’s in the shop,” Nanigian says. “Do you know how hard it is to get parts for a 1985 anything?”
Don’t expect Nanigian to leave the OPD anytime soon.
“I love it,” he says. “I love the autonomy and the trust that management and the chief have in all of us to just say, ‘Hey, hire good people.’”
Adds Nanigian: “As long as it’s fun, you never have to work another day in your life.”