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Bruins in Blue

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By Jack Feuer, Photos by Susan Anderson

Published Jan 1, 2010 8:00 AM


They walk the beat. Bust dealers. Train cadets. They even write the reforms that make their police department the gold standard. They are the Bruins in blue. And much of what they use on the job they learned on campus. We salute the proud UCLA alumni who protect and serve.

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Both Captain Anita Ortega and Officer Ryan Lee use what they learned as Bruin athletes on the job.

Jay Roberts was undercover, shooting pool and throwing darts while doing a bar check in a biker joint. Suddenly, his partner got antsy, convinced they'd been made. But Roberts, an actor before he became a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, stayed cool and collected.

"Dude, we're good," he said to his buddy. "Commit to the character."

"But that guy's looking crazy at me!"

"Look angry back."

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Lieutenant Jay Roberts wanted to be a cop because "I like being able to do something about what's wrong."

That wasn't the first time the crime-fighting Bruin, who graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 1984, used what he learned on campus on the job, nor would it be the last. Roberts is now a lieutenant currently loaned to a gang impact team out of the new Topanga station in the San Fernando Valley.

"I always wanted to be a cop," he says about the path that took him from college kid to cop. "I'm a good guy. I like being able to do something about what's wrong. Whether it's a bad person the police need to talk to or rubbish in an alley that needs to be picked up or a drug house that needs to be abated, I want to be able to do something about it."

That passion to make a difference is familiar to any member of the Bruin family. But the drive doesn't always lead the best and brightest into law, business, medicine, academia or any of the other difference-making fields one usually associates with UCLA graduates.

For scores of alumni, that desire led them to the LAPD — and it has for decades. California Court of Appeals judge Buck Compton '43 was the Police Academy's law instructor (and the inspiration for Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers). And of course L.A.'s first African-American mayor, Tom Bradley '41, was a longtime police officer.

These cops are young and old, beat cops and captains. They do all sorts of jobs, some dangerous, some not. They all had different reasons and took different paths to the department. But they all share a burning need to live "a life of significance," as Captain Jodi Wakefield '93 of the LAPD's Internal Audits and Inspections Division describes it.

And they are all extraordinary.

To Learn

Last October, Karen Wagener '66, the president of the Los Angeles Police Foundation and a tireless networker for Bruin cops, had what she calls a really fun experience. She attended the dedication of the sparkling new Hollenbeck Community Police Station that serves Boyle Heights and other East L.A. neighborhoods.

"As I was driving to the reception," recalls Wagener, "these cops saw my license plate, which says UCLA, and came running up and said, 'We love UCLA! We know there's a game on tonight. We hope you win!' We go into the reception and I said I was so impressed there were so many Bruins there. And somebody said, 'They're not Bruins, they just want to impress the captain.'"

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Captain Anita Ortega, a former UCLA Hall of Fame basketball star.

Their captain, it turns out, is Anita Ortega '82, the UCLA Hall of Fame basketball star and one of only two female area commanding officers. "What I learned from my athletic background is that it's important to be a good, strong leader, to be patient and flexible," Ortega says. "I've used all of those things."

For Detective Susan Brumagin '87, the link connecting the campus and the LAPD is even more explicit. She was a community service officer at UCLA. But at 5'4" and less than 110 pounds, she thought she was too small for police work. But the LAPD officers who came to campus to pick up radios for local foot patrols, including one named Bill Justice — really — encouraged her. She figured if they thought she had a shot, she might as well try. Today, she's the head of the LAPD Animal Cruelty Task Force (ACTF).

Over in the Metropolitan Division, which houses specialized elements like the canine unit, SWAT, mounted officers and two platoons that take on crime suppression citywide, Sergeant Brian Morrison '92 uses his history degree all the time. "What you learn about cultural differences comes into play in a city like L.A., where you're dealing with so many different people from so many different walks of life," he says.

One of Captain Ortega's 300 officers is Sergeant Robert Hernandez '06, who could be the model for a UCLA success story. His wife, Migdalia, graduated from UCLA with a biology degree in 1990, when Hernandez was in his third year with the LAPD. No one in his family had gone to college, but the campus "enlightened" him to the possibilities of higher education. He majored in English literature while still working as a cop, studying Chaucer in an undercover car while the suspects he was trailing were eating lunch, and getting three or four hours of sleep a night. But he got his degree — at age 43.

Hernandez says studying English made him more open-minded, which helps him on the job. But the biggest asset he took away from UCLA? "Writing. It's just as important as being able to shoot your gun."

To Protect

Traditionally, law enforcement has not investigated animal crime, a range of offenses that includes dog fighting, cock fighting, animal cruelty, animal neglect, animal sacrifice and bestiality. But in 2005, the ACTF was formed and it has become a model for other law enforcement agencies. (The ACTF's Education Outreach Program takes the message into K-8 classrooms in the city, and has been filmed by Animal Planet.)

Brumagin runs the ACTF from police headquarters in downtown L.A. and supervises its five officers and two detectives. She sees her mission as preventing even more horrific crimes — the human-on-human kind. "Our job is obviously protecting the welfare of the animals, but there is a big connection between people who abuse animals and then abuse their wives, girlfriends or children," she explains, adding that "probably one in three of the juveniles we arrest have been sexually or physically abused themselves."

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Officer Ryan Lee, whose days as an NCAA championship Bruin soccer player led to a professional soccer career, now trains LAPD recruits.

She's not alone in her mission. David Diliberto '87 was part of Los Angeles Animal Services — not the LAPD, but the "animal cops." He was a commander who supervised the people who enforce the City of Los Angeles' animal protection laws and care for them in shelters. He helped write ordinances prohibiting the chaining of dogs, prohibiting animals from being locked in vehicles on hot days, and other laws — until he and his family were targeted by animal-rights terrorists. So he moved to the LAPD, where today he is assistant commanding officer of the Cold Case Special Section and the highest-ranking civilian in the Robbery Homicide Division.

"Everybody who goes into law enforcement does so because they want to help people," explains Detective Christopher Rodriguez '92, whose degree is in political science and who works Mission Patrol, which covers the northeast corner of the San Fernando Valley.

The entire city is Sergeant Morrison's territory. As a squad leader in Metro's Charlie platoon, his team "follows the bouncing ball" wherever they're needed, not just taking down criminals but also protecting dignitaries and policing special events.

For some Bruins, motivation extends far beyond the city limits. It stretches, in fact, to a gaping hole on the southern tip of Manhattan. Several graduates say 9/11 led them to the LAPD. Among them: Sergeant Steve Lurie '94, out of Southeast Division, which essentially polices Watts.

During his undergraduate days, Lurie drove an ambulance part-time in Compton, Long Beach and Carson, gleaning firsthand experience of some of the region's tougher neighborhoods.

He became a cop but had his sights set on law. After four years in the department, he began taking night courses at Loyola Law School. Then he took a leave from the LAPD to go work for a law firm, when planes struck the World Trade Center towers. "Right now, the world needs good cops more than it needs good lawyers," he said to himself. And that was that.

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