COSTA MESA — As she zooms between cars, lights flashing, few motorists would notice what makes this Costa Mesa police officer one of a kind.
During her training there was little comparison. In maneuvering the 700-pound motorcycle around cones and at high speeds during an intensive five-week course, she excelled, wowing the trainers enough to mention her by name to her superiors for an outstanding performance.
She's also the first "she" the traffic detail has seen in Costa Mesa Police Department history.
Before joining the force five years ago, Officer Crystal Rodriguez was a high school art teacher in Victorville.
While cruising around Newport Beach one day, Rodriguez found her calling. She spotted a patrolling Newport police officer with a blonde braid down her back, and thought, "That's cool. I want to do that."
Rodriguez was looking for a respectable career where she could help people; she felt that she found it that moment in Newport Beach.
She sold her Inland Empire home and dedicated herself to the process of becoming the department's first female motor officer.
Although Rodriguez devotes 10 hours a day to patrolling Costa Mesa's streets for impaired drivers, safety violations and collisions where she can provide assistance, remnants of her artistic past remain present at her home in Orange where she has a kiln, various glazes and a pottery wheel (although she prefers sculpture).
The Costa Mesa Police Department also holds special significance for Rodriguez because it was while on the force that she met the love of her life, although the two now work for different departments.
Rodriguez's supervisor, Sgt. Greg Scott, said her performance at the academy was stellar, and since joining the CMPD she and her partner have had an impressive track record snagging drunk drivers — 200 in the past three months — and taking them off the streets.
"There was no exception made for her," Scott said. "It's tough. … She's definitely one of our brightest and best."
Some of the surprises of the job are the intensity of the weather and working with people who are in "an impaired state," she said.
"On hot days you're just dripping; on cold days you're freezing," Rodriguez said.
Being one of 15 women on a sworn force of 135 has come in handy for Rodriguez, as she sometimes deals with women who may not feel as comfortable opening up to a male officer. She's also seen men, who were belligerent with male colleagues, calm down when speaking with a female officer.
There are challenges, though.
"I definitely think [female officers] have to work harder because we don't have the physical strength that men do," Rodriguez said.
For Rodriguez, the benefits outweigh the challenges, and the five years she's spent on the bike are just the beginning.
"I'm here to stay," Rodriguez said. "I'd like to be on the bike the rest of my career."