Tustin PD to formally promote three officers to captain, lieutenant and sergeant

By Greg Hardesty

Three officers at the Tustin PD are moving on up, and their promotions formally will be recognized at a City Hall ceremony Sept. 7.

The promotions technically go into effect Labor Day, Sept. 4.

Meet incoming Capt. Jeff Blair, Lt. Manny Arzate and Sgt. Jeremy Laurich:

Capt. Jeff Blair

Blair’s biggest aspiration when he joined the TPD at age 20 was to someday be a K9 officer.

That never happened.

But that doesn’t mean he’s the type who never meets his goals.

Far from it.

Twenty-nine years after joining the TPD, Blair finds himself near the pinnacle of the command staff as incoming captain in charge of all patrol operations and detectives.

“I still have some tread on the tires,” Blair said of putting his name in the running for captain. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2013, and in that capacity served as commander of South Area patrol.

“I was incident commander for four OISs (officer-involved shootings) and a couple of homicides, so I gained a lot of experience in dog years as a lieutenant,” says Blair, who turns 49 in September.

“I figured I would end my career as a lieutenant, but when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it. It’s a perfect way to bookend my career.”

Tustin PD Lt. Jeff Blair talks about his promotion to captain.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Among those who will be attending Blair’s Sept. 7 swearing-in will be two former gang members he and his colleagues relentlessly pursued in the crime-crippling mid-1990s.

One of those former gang members is Jimmy Rumsey, who credits Blair with helping to turn around his life.

“The fact they are coming is pretty significant for me,” says Blair, who always has honored the following mantra as a law enforcement officer:

Work hard, be relentless when it comes to combating crime, and treat everyone with respect.

That includes treating criminals with respect.

Blair became a TPD detective at a young 22, and as his career progressed, he reached for bigger goals.

After four years as a detective, Blair served as an FTO (field training officer).

Then, in 1996, when gang activity was at a peak in Tustin, Blair was selected to be part of the TPD’s first gang unit, along with Sgt. Joe Stickles and Officers Todd Bullock, Mike Clesceri and Mike Lamoureux.

At the time, Tustin was experiencing a large amount of gang crime activity. There were a number of different gangs committing crimes in Tustin, including the Deuce Tray Crips, South Side Santa Ana, Los Wickeds, Barrio Brown Revolution, Maniacs, Laurel Hood Tustin, Los Crooks, Nutthood Crips, Watergate Crips, Barrio Rascals, Alley Boys and Pasadena Varrio Locos, among others (most of those gangs no longer exist in Tustin today).

Blair says his four-year stint on the gang unit was a career highlight.

“We made a huge impact on the city,” he says.

In 2000, Blair voluntarily transferred to patrol to again serve as an FTO to get more supervisor experience. Shortly after, he was promoted to sergeant. Blair then moved for three years to the administrative side of the TPD, serving as a sergeant in the Professional Standards Division.

“I was operating out of my element,” Blair says, “but it broadened my perspective.”

Blair then returned to patrol as a sergeant and served as an interim lieutenant a couple of times before he was promoted to lieutenant in 2013.

Blair, married with children, says it’s a privilege to serve the community he grew up in.

“These are my people,” he says.

Tustin PD Sgt. Manny Arzate talks about his upcoming promotion to lieutenant.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lt. Manny Arzate

At the relatively young age of 38, Arzate has attained the rank of lieutenant at what he figures is the midway point of his career at the TPD.

“The opportunities are endless,” Arzate says. “I feel like I’ve done a lot of hard work, and that I lead by example.”

Arzate’s official first day as a lieutenant comes almost 15 years to the day after his first day in the field as a TPD officer. In his new position, Arzate will be commander of the North Area patrol team.

It’s been a fruitful journey for the kid from the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation in Riverside County.

Arzate is a Cahuilla Indian whose reservation occupies more than 11,000 acres of land between Palm Springs and the community of Anza.

“That’s something I’m very proud of,” Arzate says of his heritage.

Arzate was raised off the reservation before his family relocated to Orange County when he was around 8.

His mother, Lisa Plazola, married a Marine stationed at the then-open El Toro Marine Corps air base (it closed in 1999).

Arzate’s step-father, a Marine flight engineer, is one of three men Arzate says played a major role in him becoming a police officer — something he’s wanted to do since he was a kid.

Another was the father of Arzate’s high school sweetheart.

When Arzate was 15, he fell for Marie Aguilar, the daughter of Sgt. John Aguilar of the Santa Ana PD. At the time, the two were students at Villa Park High School in Orange.

After graduating from University High School in Irvine in 1997, Arzate joined the Marine Corps.

Sadly, a year later, Sgt. Aguilar died after contracting leukemia as a result of extended contact with benzene, a chemical known to be a carcinogen. This occurred while Aguilar was a member of the SAPD’s narcotics unit. He was 43.

A year later, in 1999, Arzate and Marie got married. Marie’s sister is married to a recently retired Orange PD officer who also was a big role model for Arzate.

During his final year as a Marine, when he served as a driver for Col. Lee Farmer, the chief of staff at Camp Pendleton, Arzate attended the Palomar College Police Academy in San Marcos.

He graduated from the academy in 2002 and was hired that year by the TPD.

Arzate’s assignments have included patrol, bike patrol, detective in the gang unit, field training officer, patrol sergeant and supervisor of the SED (Special Enforcement Detail).

In addition, he serves on the TPD’s Honor Guard, is a first aid and CPR instructor, he oversees the agency’s arrests and control program, he reviews cases involving use of force, he’s very involved in community events like Run With A Cop, and he also works part time as a recruit training officer at Golden West College.

While at the TPD, Arzate earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational studies from Cal State Long Beach and a master’s degree in business management from the University of Redlands.

“I have so much pride in this organization and in this profession,” Arzate says. “I pour my heart into it.”

Tustin PD Master Officer Jeremy Laurich talks about his upcoming promotion to sergeant.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Sgt. Jeremy Laurich

Consider the train conductor.

The conductor works to ensure everyone has a seat on the train and all are headed in the right direction.

The job of sergeant is to make sure the officers know where they fit in the mission of the organization and how they can best contribute.

That’s how Laurich sees his new role as a patrol sergeant for the TPD’s South Area.

“I like the concept of servant leadership,” says Laurich, 37, who began his career at the TPD in 2001 as a dispatcher.

“It has been said that you manage things, but you lead people,” Laurich says. “I think by serving people and taking care of them, such as by making sure they have the tools and the decision-making ability to operate within department policy, then they will feel more empowered to go out there and do their jobs better.”

Prior to becoming a dispatcher at the TPD, Laurich, who grew up in Yorba Linda, served as an explorer and cadet with the Brea PD, which used to patrol his hometown (now the Orange County Sheriff’s Department does).

Laurich was urged to become an explorer by a school resource officer (SRO) at his alma mater, Esperanza High School in Anaheim.

Police work clicked for Laurich, a former water polo player and swimmer at Esperanza High.

He has law enforcement in his family.

Laurich’s father, John, a retired principal of Nelson Elementary in Tustin, was a reserve officer for the Whittier PD in the 1970s. So was Laurich’s uncle.

While serving as a cadet at the Brea PD, Laurich earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Fullerton.

He served as a dispatcher at the TPD for two years. The agency then put him through the Golden West Police Academy in 2003 and hired him that same year.

During his fourth year on patrol, Laurich became a motor officer — one of his goals.

Despite becoming a motorcycle officer that August, he managed to rack up 68 DUI arrests while a patrol officer, winning him an award from MADD.

During his five years as a motor officer, Laurich became a motorcycle instructor.

In 2013, he became certified as a DRE (drug recognition expert) and now is DRE coordinator for the agency.

Laurich also has been an FTO. During that assignment, he tested for sergeant twice and was on the short list, but other officers won the promotion instead.

Laurich is a member of the TPD’s Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT) and is on the agency’s social media team. He is a Citizen’s Academy instructor and, for 10 years, served as an explorer advisor. He also acts as an agitator on the agency’s K9 team, donning a bite suit for K9 training and public demonstrations.

Now, Laurich gets to put all that experience to work as the TPD’s newest sergeant.

“I’m excited for the opportunity and can’t wait to get started,” he says.