by Alisha Rosas
photography by Denisse Villalba
His eyes stay focused on the car up ahead. The vehicle straddles over the painted lines on the street, weaving in between the lanes. The car’s lights are not on, a sign that the driver may be drunk and forgot to turn them on. Quickly, red and blue lights flash as Ramzi Rabadi, La Verne Police Department officer, pulls the car over.
The driver’s eyes are nervous in the rear-view mirror. Rabadi walks to the driver’s side window and motions for it to be rolled down; in a moment, the pungent smell of alcohol escapes through the window opening, and it is clear that the driver should not have been on the road.
Rabadi, who once pursued a future in journalism, graduated in 1998 from the University of La Verne. He now patrols the nights of La Verne and determines the fates of many such drivers. The Pasadena resident has been working for LVPD for a little more than a year now and cannot imagine doing anything else but patrolling the streets of La Verne despite his training and experience in the media world. “When I got out of school, I found out that journalism was not what I wanted to do,” says Rabadi. “It was hard to find a job, and I didn’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it during school, but I could not see myself doing it afterward.”
As the summer of 1998 passed, Rabadi decided to follow the advice of fellow family members involved in law enforcement and went on ride-alongs with officers. “I enjoyed it,” he says. “I knew that it was the job for me.” The LVPD hired him shortly after as a reserve officer. With experience in the Department being his only form of pay at the time, Rabadi enrolled in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy that August and found himself learning about shooting techniques, self-defense and mind-game tactics over a period of six months. Shortly after, he completed another six-month academy to be able to apply as a full-time police officer with the Department. During that duration, he was also pursuing his master’s degree at ULV in public administration. “I want to stay ahead of everyone else in law enforcement,” he says. “I definitely want to move up, hopefully someday be chief. I’m just taking it one step at a time right now.”
Although he describes himself as aggressive, it is hard to imagine the 26-year-old with the dark eyes and a friendly smile anything but gentle. “I look for stuff out there. With my training as an officer, I see things that the average citizen won’t see,” he says.
Rabadi believes that education is essential to be a good officer. In fact, he says that his communication skills have helped him in his chosen career. “You need the good ear, he explains. “That’s where my journalism major has helped me out. I just let them talk and hear what they have to say. I do it with everyone I deal with, victims, suspects and regular citizens.”
Working three 12-hour graveyard shifts a week, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., is something Rabadi does not complain about. Arriving to work early to work out before his night begins is something he enjoys on a regular basis. Nelly, his mother, however, worries about her son. “She worries a lot,” he says, smiling, “even more when I work nights because I leave, and I do not get back until the next morning. But my family knows that this job makes me happy, and that this is what I want to do.”
The transition of being a journalism major to a police officer is an obvious one. Rabadi seems to take the transition in a laid-back manner. “I’m scared of guns in the wrong hands,” he admits. “And of getting hurt or injured. A lot of times you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.”
Pulling drunk drivers over may seem worth it. Riding as a secondary patrol car in a high-chase pursuit seems to also convince him. “I always go for it,” he says, “but later, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ You realize afterward the things you did that put your life in danger.”
Rabadi says that La Verne has a problem with drunk drivers, crime and other community concerns, just like any other city. He says it bothers him when people believe that since the city has such a low-crime rate, that the police officers do nothing. “It they think we are not doing anything, you cannot argue with a person like that,” he says. “I don’t want to say that they are ignorant, but there’s so much that we do. Even my own family thinks that nothing happens in La Verne, and that the city stops at Foothill. But we have our small gangs. We get a little bit of everything. Just name it, and we’ve had it. Nobody sees it because it happens at two in the morning, and it won’t be on the front page of a newspaper the next day, but we get it all the time.”
According to a web site for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “More Americans have died in alcohol-related traffic crashes than in all the wars the United States has been involved in since our country was founded.” Such tragedies may be a reason why Rabadi holds little empathy toward those driving under the influence. “There are certain times that stick out on Foothill Boulevard mostly,” he says, “usually between 12:20 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.”
He says that after noticing a suspicious vehicle on the road and pulling the driver over, he will call for back up from another officer before field testing the driver’s coordination skills or blood alcohol level. “It’s sad because you can’t really believe that the person was out there on the road,” he says. “I’ve had guys stumble, trying to pick up their legs, or guys that can’t even understand instructions to count to 30. For some officers, [drunk driving] is their pet peeve. It bothers me, but I just try to do my job. You do not give warnings to people who are drunk driving.”
Some images of Rabadi’s time on the force have stayed with him this past year. “I’ve had a baby die in front of me,” he says, explaining how the baby had drowned. “I was in training then and seeing a baby blue will always stay with me. It’s the same with people getting injured, stabbed. Seeing blood will always stay with you.”
Perhaps the reason Rabadi is able to find joy in his unpredictable working situation revolves around his ability to leave his job at the Department when his shift is over. “When I’m off work, I’m not a police officer,” he says.
“That’s how you keep yourself healthy. I can’t be a police officer 24-hours a day. I’m Ramzi, just a regular person, just a regular Joe.”
Protecting the Night
by Matt Cresto
Life on the beat means life on the edge. The most important shake down a La Verne police officer can have is the one when he returns home to hug and kiss his family. An officer does more than just worry about tickets; he worries about returning home to what he truly loves.
Nights driving the black and white are filled with unexpected incidents out there waiting to happen. No police officer can determine what type of calls they will be sent on each night. The fear of being injured or not seeing his family again sits in the back of each officer’s mind as he ventures out each night.
Officer Ramzi Rabadi, of the La Verne Police Department, enjoys the repercussions of his job. “I love it. This is the job for me,” he says. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
I went on a ride along with Officer Rabadi to get an idea of what goes on in the life of an LVPD officer. Any casual clothing will suit perfectly for the job as a ride along. Something dark may be appropriate for you to wear to blend in with the force. The only apparatus you will have to wear is the small clip stating you are just a ride-along participant. You may want to clip it on your belt in a spot not too many people will see. It could take you out of the undercover role that you are playing in your head.
Our beat for the night was “Area Two.” We were in charge of downtown La Verne and the area surrounding it, out west to Wheeler Avenue and east to White Avenue. Our night finally got underway with our first violation. A car drove by with the music bumping way too loud. We flipped around and accelerated toward the suspect. We stopped him at the corner of E street and Arrow Highway. The lights were shot onto the suspect as we stopped him, making sure that we could see every move. This was for cautionary reasons against the suspect. It was more of a barrier for the officer to stay behind and an angle for a light to shine on the suspect. You never know what could be in the car.
“You are on their turf when you pull someone over,” says Rabadi. “You don’t want them to know where you are. That is why we use so many lights.”
After a brief talk with the suspect, officer Rabadi let him go with a warning and relaxed nerves. The next call was for a missing child. We cautiously entered the trailer park where the family had reported the violation. Questions to the family were asked immediately to understand the situation. Once everything seemed in control, he signaled to the other officer and was on his way.
The next stop was dinner. You cannot work on an empty stomach. A half-hour break is awarded to Rabadi to get a quick meal. As he entered the restaurant, all heads turned his way. Once he ordered, the crowd of people settled and continued with their meals. The respect toward the officer as he entered a public arena was highly noted.”People definitely respect you more when you are in uniform,” says Rabadi.
As the night continued, Officer Rabadi noticed a suspicious vehicle. He ran the plates on the vehicle to check for any problems with the driver or the car itself through the computer system attached to the face of the dashboard. The system revealed everything about the history of a given car.
Confirming his hunch, Rabadi found out that the driver was on probation. We followed the suspects into a gas station, and immediately called for backup. It turned out that all three suspects were on probation.
Officer Rabadi decided to search each individual to make sure they were staying clean. He selected each suspect one by one, but not until backup arrived. A pipe was found, but no actual drug to convict them. It is a standard 10-8; subjects are checked and cleared.
Safety is the most important idea on an officer’s mind. He is trying to keep the community safe, but he also wants to keep himself out of harms way. “My thing is to go home at the end of the night,” says Rabadi. “If you do not have a little fear, that is when you get hurt.
“I am more worried about my family,” says Rabadi. “What is going to happen to them if something happens to me?”