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These Officers Pound a Different Kind of Police Beat

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nine cops in a rock ‘n’ roll band? Nine cops in uniform in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

If the idea catches you off guard, or even amuses you, they don’t mind.

Mutual Aid--whose members are Southern California police officers from Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Monterey Park and elsewhere--is based on a simple premise: If kids see cops booming on drums and guitars, kids will think cops are cool.

It’s hard to measure the band’s success by record sales--it hasn’t cut an album yet. And it doesn’t sell tickets to its shows; any donations are passed on to charity.

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But it has something else.

“We have kids coming up to us saying, ‘We didn’t realize police officers could do this,’ ” said band founder and Monterey Park Police Sgt. Ed Riojas, who plays guitar. “We’re an inspiration. And role models.”

The band favors tunes from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s--"Mustang Sally,” “Your Mama Don’t Dance"--and plays about five gigs a month around Southern California. It played the L.A. Special Olympics Christmas party in Downey. It played the Santa Ana DARE graduation ceremony in Eddie West Stadium in December. And it once played for a crowd of 10,000--not screaming teens, but police officers, their friends and families at the Sahara in Las Vegas.

The band members don’t play where alcohol is served, unless the occasion is a formal banquet. They don’t sing songs with lyrics about drugs or alcohol.

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They have a drummer, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist and two horn players. They have three vocalists.

At the DARE ceremony in Santa Ana, they played about nine songs--opening with the DARE theme song, which has an anti-drug and anti-violence message.

In the song “Play That Funky Music” they substituted “police” for “white boy” and altered the end of the line, “I was a boogie singer, playin’ in a rock ‘n’ roll band” to “cop band.”

But do they rock?

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Sure, according to kids in the Santa Ana audience.

“I think they’re great . . . the rhythm of their music,” said Luis Gomez, 11, of Santa Ana and a student at Heninger Elementary School.

But is it funny to see police officers in a band?

“It’s funny,” acknowledged Luis, surrounded by his friends. But he added: “We still like it. It’s great because they encourage kids not to use drugs and, you know, all that stuff . . . they’re great singers.”

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“I like the drums,” chimed in Arthur Espinoza, 10. “The drummer’s fast.”

“For me, it’s good enough,” said Manuel Gonzales, 45, of Santa Ana. Gonzales had accompanied his 10-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, to the show.

“It’s funny enough that there’s a band dressed up as police officers,” added Gonzales, who works as an auto detailer. “It’s unusual, eh?”

*

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“Mutual Aid” is police jargon for the policy allowing one department to come to the aid of another. It is an especially appropriate name for these rockers because they hail from at least half a dozen law enforcement agencies. The band’s full name is Mutual Aid: The Music Force.

Band members practice once a week at the Boys and Girls Club in Monterey Park. And while they get an hour or two here and there of grace time from their bosses, their time in the band is in addition to their regular shifts.

They range in age from 25 (that’s Alan De La Pena of the Whittier Police Department on saxophone) to 57 (Lew Morrison of the Monterey Park / San Fernando police departments on bass).

They are Filipino, Latino, black and white. They are patrol officers and traffic investigators.

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They have a roadie--Lori Fishburn, 38--a Monterey Park police officer who works undercover narcotics detail. Fishburn explained that she can’t perform onstage with the band because her line of work prohibits her face from being shown. And anyway, she has no musical talent.

Stage attire consists of the Class A, ceremonial uniforms, normally reserved for funerals and inspections. The dark blue uniforms are worn with black ties. A white cord hangs from the right shoulder. The officers also wear thick white leather belts--but not their hats--when they perform.

Riojas, who had played in a band previously, started Mutual Aid in 1993.

“The chief and I were talking about how to reach kids, and we thought of music,” Riojas recalled. “I had played professionally, so we put the word out.”

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One of the four founding members of Mutual Aid was drummer and Santa Ana Patrol Officer Mike Gorajewski, 38, who had played with Riojas previously. Gorajewski needed little persuading.

“When you’re a policeman working on the street, you contact people in a negative context most of the time,” he said. Not so with the band. “We give them a smile rather than a frown. We don’t give them tickets.”

Other band members came on board by happenstance.

Lead singer Julio “Tuna” Endara, 36, of the Bell Police, met Riojas on a Harley ride, and Riojas asked what Endara had done over the weekend. Endara mentioned that he had hopped from club to club singing karaoke.

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“We should get together and jam,” Endara recalled Riojas telling him.

Riojas had briefly left law enforcement in the late 1970s to pursue a career in music and ended up playing what he calls the hotel circuit. He eventually went back to law enforcement but found he still had an itchy guitar string finger.

Mutual Aid was the perfect way to meld together his two passions.

“The music business is real tough,” Riojas said, adding: “I found I really missed police work. This gave me an opportunity to do both.”

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Added Gorajewski who, like most band members, has no plans to leave law enforcement: “It’s a release. It’s a hobby. The concept is great.

“It’s better than a party band--at least we have direction. It makes the kids happy. It’s gratifying.”

But don’t write these guys off as just a concert band.

Riojas hopes to cut a record in 1996. No record label yet, but he has written some of the songs.

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“They are pro-police,” he said, “talking about officers and the job they have to do. They are anti-drug and anti-violence.”

Any songs about police officers who play in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

“No,” Riojas said. “Probably not.

“We just played an ABC television employees Christmas party [in Silver Lake]. The first thing people said was they didn’t believe we were police officers.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Lineup

Here are the police officers in the rock band Mutual Aid:

* Officer Mike Gorajewski, 38, Santa Ana Police, drums

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* Sgt. Ed Riojas, 48, Monterey Park Police, guitar

* Officer Lew Morrison, 57, Monterey Park / San Fernando police departments, bass

* Officer Julio “Tuna” Endara, 36, Bell Police, vocals

* Cpl. Debbie Santana, 34, Alhambra Police, vocals

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* Officer Rich Ogas, 45, Monterey Park Police, keyboard

* Officer Arnelle De Guzman, 26, Glendale Police, trumpet

* Officer Alan De La Pena, 25, Whittier Police, saxophone

* Officer Angela Shepard, 41, Los Angeles County Sheriff, vocals

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