Nine-year-old Brandon Rodriguez and his family awoke as normal, trooped downstairs for breakfast, and discovered that their home had been broken into and quietly ransacked.
Soon after the police had completed their initial investigation and left, Rodriguez had made his own discovery: he wanted to become a cop.
Now, four decades later, Rodriguez continues his own series of discoveries as one of two detective sergeants heading the nine-person Property Crimes Unit of the Newport Beach Police Department.
His investigations — and those of the other detective divisions — would easily challenge the movie, TV and novel manufactured mysteries of such famed investigators as Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Inspector Morse.
Unfortunately, unlike the movies with their 90-minute resolutions, Rodriguez’s team’s true-life mysteries can take from weeks to years to solve.
In addition to all the physical and mental attributes required to be a Newport Beach cop, Rodriguez lists creativity, curiosity, unfailing persistence and proactiveness to that list for those who wish to become detectives.
Rodriguez arrived in Newport Beach in 2001 after a four-year-stint with the LAPD, where he quickly learned that the streets of South Central required a strictly reactive regimen, with little time to do anything but respond to prioritized calls and little opportunity for follow-up.
He also learned that geographically there was a different perspective for law enforcement, as demonstrated when “a four-year-old boy jumped in front of my patrol car, stood there defiantly, then showed me two fingers.
Here in Newport, he said, “Four-year-old kids want to high five you or shake your hand.” In fact, many street officers and Police Volunteers carry stick-on badges for kids to proudly wear.
Under the latest leadership of Deputy Chief Joe Cartwright and Lt. Keith Krallman, the Property Crimes Divisions have been super busy. For example, from April 2020 to December 2020, Property Crimes detectives had arrested 57 suspects for property crimes throughout the city. For the entire 2021 year, they made more than120 arrests, which Rodriguez said was “a large number for a city this size.”
So what comprises property crime?
According to Rodriguez, it’s burglary (commercial, residential and vehicle), grand theft (anything of a value greater than $950, from guns to electronics, boats to autos), petty theft; shoplifting; fraud (identity theft and forgery), trespassing, and miscellaneous infractions such as the not-uncommon “failing to pay your dinner bill.”
By nature of Newport’s demographics, the majority of crimes committed are property crimes. Criminals run the descriptive gamut, from ethnicity to age to gender. They are locals, near locals, from outside the county and state.
Currently, Newport (as well as other parts of the country) has been victimized by burglary gangs trained in Chile (South America), and exported by sophisticated criminal enterprises.
Recently, the Property Crimes detectives arrested six Chileans. Another evaded apprehension, but ultimately was arrested in Delaware. He had been convicted of murder in Chile. Most often, these thieves skulk along the unlighted golf course greens and bike paths at night until they identify an empty home.
The majority of suspects are drug addicted, Rodriguez said. Theft and drugs evidently go hand-in-handcuffs.
Currently both the East and West Units are investigating 146 cases “with workable leads.” However, Rodriguez said, “It’s a tough load with only six detectives plus a civilian investigator.
Nevertheless, he said, “We’ll literally go anywhere to get the bad guys. My people are relentless and enjoy the chase.”
One recent “fun case” started with a stolen car report from Fashion Island, that took more than a year to unravel. The investigation found the team as far north as Fresno, then east to San Bernardino, and points in-between.
Detectives had to piece the truth from spurious statements by a lying grandmother, a hardened girlfriend and a denying ex-con named One-tooth George, who happened to have been in the Orange County Jail for part of the investigation.
Although some of their testimony seemed convincing, the cops’ proverbial “gut instincts” ultimately proved the trio’s undoing, for grainy video taken from cameras around Fashion Island revealed that despite her claim of innocence, the girl and One-tooth had cooperated in the theft of the vehicle.
While a few criminals could solve a Mensa puzzle with ease, the majority might have trouble spelling IQ.
“We had arrested this one guy on Balboa Island who had a stolen bike in the back of his white truck. Not long afterward, we were called to a construction site on the island from where a 2,000 pound jackhammer had been taken. Video from nearby homes showed two individuals manhandling it with difficulty into the bed of a white truck.”
As the truck drove off, its license plate fell to the ground. Ye3s, it was the bike thief. When detectives tracked the man to his home, the suspect’s wife turned on him faster than a drowning woman could grab a life preserver. But a subsequent review of the video showed that the perp’s accomplice was his wife. The duo had sold the expensive equipment to an innocent tool reseller in Westminster, who willingly surrendered the tool.
When the jackhammer had been returned to the “super happy” contractor, he said that in his 30-years of construction, this was the very first piece of stolen equipment ever returned.
When 16 iPads had been stolen from Harbor Day School, there were no leads, except a dim video recording that was about as grainy as Big Corona. But it did show two shadowed individuals standing near where the hole in the fence had been cut: a tall man about the height of the fence, and a very short individual with a rear of sizable dimensions. That was it. But detectives thought that maybe with patient and thorough searching they could find some on-line advertisements for iPads.
Bingo! They tracked one purchase, found both a stolen iPad and a cooperative witness. More ads turned up, as did subsequent buyers. When the detectives arranged a purchase for themselves, they nabbed the very identifiable girl, who ratted on her accomplice. They also discovered that this same two-person theft ring had stolen iPads from several other schools around Orange County.
Newport’s sleuths ultimately retrieved all but one of the iPads. Thanks to a grainy video and a holed fence, that couple won’t be fencing any more computers in the near future.
Ten high-end fishing boats in the harbor had been burgled of expensive fishing gear in a short amount of time. Concerned, the fishing community came together to compare notes and videos, in which they identified a possible suspect vehicle. However, what hooked the thief were his on-line ads. Detectives bought one rod, ID’d it, then reeled in the thief on the spot. Rodriguez said that young suspect was a first-time amateur who just happened to love fishing.
Dogged footwork is still the fundamental tool of a detective, although technology has enhanced success.
In their latest case, a hot lead about the car of a serial burglar who repeatedly hit Newport took Rodriguez and his team to an area in San Diego, where “We checked every white car with a sunroof that we could find.”
Finding a match, the team watched the vehicle parked in front of a home. A short time later, a person matching the description of their suspect had walked out of the house. “We discovered that he had a long criminal history.”
The next day, the team returned to the area to make an arrest. When approached, the suspect took off running, even crossing a freeway and nearly being struck by a couple of speeding cars. He was tracked down hiding in a neighborhood tattoo parlor on the other side of the freeway.
A subsequent search of his residence turned up numerous items of stolen property, including handguns, plus other evidence that linked him to more than 50 cases throughout Orange and San Diego Counties.
“It was a great case! Rodriguez enthused, adding, “And everybody was safe.”
For years, Rodriguez was the lead member of the Bike Squad, a stealthy hunter/capture group that patrols the Peninsula and Balboa Island.
“I often thought ’What could be better than cycling on the beach, looking out at the beautiful ocean, seeing happy families, and nabbing bike thieves?’ That was before I became a detective. All of us just love to put our heads down, and work hard to put the bad guys away. This is the greatest job in police work.”
Chief Jon Lewis said, “Our detectives are simply some of the best in the business of law enforcement. We are incredibly proud of their dedication, tenacity and relentless pursuit of those that victimize our community.”
As a footnote, Rodriguez said that their job would be a lot easier if people would lock their cars, take everything out or put it in the trunk if they do park their cars outside. He strongly suggests parking in a garage, if possible, plus locking homes’ doors and windows, even if one plans to be gone for just a few minutes.
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Source: Newport Beach Independent