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Irma Vasquez, Police Detective : Homicide Detective Pursues Career Goals

In cool, crisp sentences, the police homicide detective offers a rapid analysis of the unsolved case.

“I know who did it. I can’t prove it. It just bothers me to no end because I don’t have the physical evidence. But everything, as far as I am concerned, points to this one individual,” Santa Ana Police Detective Irma Vasquez says of the murder committed earlier this year.

Her job is somber, frustrating, unpredictable and filled with long days. And after 19 years in law enforcement--the past 16 with the Santa Ana Police Department--Vasquez still smiles when she talks about her job.

“Law enforcement has been the best thing that happened to me,” the 40-year-old detective says.

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It was not a career she dreamed of as a girl. The youngest of eight children, Vasquez says she was brought up in a conservative household that instilled in her the desire to be a good wife and mother. Any job outside the home would be secondary.

But after the birth of her son and the end of a short marriage, Vasquez searched for work that would pay more than her secretarial job. During a lunch break one day, she found herself at the Orange County employment office, staring at a job posting for deputy sheriff.

She attended the training academy and worked at County Jail before becoming a patrol officer in Santa Ana.

Vasquez began working homicide cases 10 years ago and is the only woman on the department’s six-member team. One advantage she believes that she has over her male counterparts is her ability to put people at ease.

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“I am just an average person, and I am not threatening,” Vasquez says. “I think it helps me get at the truth.”

Vasquez sometimes sounds detached in talking about her work, but her voice softens as she remembers her most difficult homicide case. A 25-year-old live-in baby-sitter with cerebral palsy was killed in 1984 while taking care of her own daughter and four other children. She was bound, beaten and tortured.

“That was very disturbing because of her helplessness,” she said. “Also, the witnesses were children, and it’s very difficult to solicit information from a 5-year-old.”

More recent cases have become harder to solve, she says, because an increasing number of murders are being committed without the killer knowing the victim or having a strong motive.

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“It used to be you know the people you killed,” she says with a perplexed look on her face. “The reasons for murder around here . . . they don’t amount to much. It could be over a dollar, or a beer, or a look--just how you look at each other.”

Feeling it time to advance in her career, Vasquez is preparing for the test to become a sergeant. A promotion would mean going back to patrol duty on the graveyard shift with days off in the middle of the week. But she has to do it if she wants to attain her goal of retiring from the police force as a lieutenant.

“You have to make a total commitment, and I want the job now,” Vasquez said. “I’m going to test, and I’m aggressively going after it.”


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