Perez: The SAPOA and Santa Ana’s House of Cards

If you are familiar with the Netflix series, “House of Cards,” then you have a pretty accurate perspective of the magnitude of political corruption and manipulation in Santa Ana. Recent developments have highlighted the fact that policing and law enforcement are not primarily about public safety in Santa Ana, but about money and political power. About money and political power to such an extent, that former Chief of Police Carlos Rojas became a target of his very own SAPOA. Rare is the case in which a police officer, especially a Chief of Police, breaks free from the blue code of silence, exposes the corruption within a police department, and attempts to seek justice. Such is the situation developing in Santa Ana.

A couple of weeks ago, the former Santa Ana Chief of Police, Carlos Rojas took the first step towards a legal lawsuit against SAPOA President Gerry Serrano, City Council members Jose Solorio, Juan Villegas and Mayor Miguel Pulido among others. However, he is not the first to go public with allegations of corruption and illegal activities within the police department or city administration. Even prior to the most recent election season, city council members such as Councilman Sal Tinajero, began going public about the SAPOA privately threatening to unseat them by pouring money on running candidates against them, if they didn’t agree to the following: (a) fire the City Manager and Chief of Police Rojas, (b) renegotiate the police union contract in order to provide raises from one time funds from the city reserve fund, (c) expand the contract with ICE instead of cancelling it, and (d) not pursue police accountability measures.

Most city council members refused, pushed back and went public regarding the threats and personal attacks. As a result, during election season, the SAPOA spent $400,000 in endorsing Councilmen Villegas and Solorio along with Mayor Pulido, and Jessica Cha who lost against Councilman Sarmiento. All of the SAPOA endorsed candidates promised to implement the demands of the SAPOA and were ultimately elected except Cha. Very soon after, the City Manager was fired and the Chief of Police was forced to resign.

After being forced to resign, former Chief of Police Rojas is taking the first step towards exposing the corruption within the city and his former police department. According to courageous public statements by former Councilman Reyna and current Councilmembers Tinajero and Michele Martinez, SAPOA President Serrano was seeking to force his own Chief to resign because not only had the Chief attempted to steer the department away from suppression and enforcement and towards community policing, the Chief had also fired certain police officers who had violated the law while at work.

According to Serrano, these measures of internal police accountability were burdensome and lowered moral among the police officers. However, in reality, Chief Rojas had broken free from the blue line and the blue code of silence several times and Serrano was willing to take the measures necessary to bring that to an end. Serrano wanted to replace his Chief with a Chief that would not seek police accountability, with a Chief that would reinforce the blue line and the blue code of silence, and he recently achieved his objective.

The message was loud and clear to the police officers on the ground. Soon after, Santa Ana police officers brutally and violently beat Jesus Martinez and killed a man while responding to a family dispute. Councilman Solorio can hire all of the PR consultants and crisis management firms in the world, however the truth, just like the sun, cannot be blocked out by his hand. All of the public safety advertisements endorsed by Councilman Solorio on Facebook are pure rhetoric and not really about public safety. They lack substance, fail to address root causes of violence, and fail to offer serious proposals in order to improve public safety. They are purely ineffective attempts at improving his tarnished public image as an elected official while promoting the power and money desires and aims of Serrano.

The question now remains, will the city allow former Chief of Police Carlos Rojas to expose the “Santa Ana House of Cards” by allowing him to seek justice through the U.S. court system or will the city settle out of court choosing the blue line and the blue code of silence over the oath made to the residents of Santa Ana and to the U.S. Constitution?

Claudia Perez is a recent University of California, Irvine graduate with a bachelor’s in Sociology and is currently acting Director of Resilience Orange County.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at [email protected]