Santa Maria police Lt. Rico Flores loves everything about his job, which is partly why he must leave it.
Somehow, the late-night DUI checkpoints, frequent traffic accidents and 24-7, on-call shifts haven’t burnt out the 55-year-old Flores on law enforcement.
Flores figures that means it’s time to retire.
“I’ve had 33 years of this career, and it’s been great,” Flores said. “Let the young blood rise to the top. I know it’s time to go ahead and step off the ship.”
The desire to begin a second career — a to-be-determined part-time gig in investigations — also compelled the Southern California native to retire a year sooner than expected. His last day will be Nov. 30.
“I’d like to get in the slow lane,” Flores joked.
Flores has worked for 22 years in the Santa Maria Police Department, where he’s held a host of duties.
Off the top of his head, Flores cited serving as gang detective, crisis negotiator, overseer of traffic, motor instructor, and as traffic and criminal public information officer.
He says he never really was a “gun guy.”
“My main passion is traffic,” Flores told Noozhawk, noting that he has trained motorcycle officers from Goleta to Paso Robles.
Flores moved away from all his extended family up to Santa Maria in 1990 for the new job, and to raise his son and daughter, who are now 26 and 28 and living nearby in San Luis Obispo County.
In January, Flores was given several new job responsibilities that spread him too thin, he said.
Now that the department is under new leadership and new structure, Flores said, his work load is lighter than ever – another reason to thank the department for good years and leave to discover a new passion.
“We’d all like to leave some type of legacy,” Flores said. “The uniform does not define who we are.”
Flores will be missed by those in the department who know him as a reliable straight-shooter, said Krissie Jeffers, a Santa Maria Police dispatch communication manager who has worked with Flores seven years.
“He’s always on the ball,” Jeffers said. “He’s just very dedicated. It’ll be sad to see him go.”
Traffic Officer Shane Armstrong said it’s been a pleasure to work with Flores.
“He’s a traffic guy from the core,” he said.
Flores said he didn’t want to disclose some of the job leads that could keep him in the Central Coast region.
After his last day, Flores said he’ll be riding his own personal motorcycle, hiking around Big Sur, spending time with family, and traveling throughout the state and out of the country with new-found free time.
He’s excited for the next chapter.
“Always keep your mind open,” Flores said. “You’re never too old to learn.”