Monday, October 22 , 2018, 12:33 pm | Overcast 66º

 
 
 
 

Longtime Police Officer Chris Nartatez Reflects on North County Career

The sergeant rose through the ranks to chief of the Guadalupe Police Department before joining the force in Santa Maria

Chris Nartatez entered law enforcement because he found it exciting, but remained after discovering the job gave him a chance to help people.

This week will be the Santa Maria Police Department sergeant’s final stretch on the job after working in law enforcement since 1977.

He spent 16 years with the Santa Maria department plus 21 with the Guadalupe Police Department.

Working as a police officer provided multiple opportunities to help people — both the crime victims and even those he arrested, he said.

“I often say to the younger officers, 'We have the right to take someone’s liberty away, but we don’t have the right to take their dignity away,'” Nartatez said.

Nartatez received a resolution noting his "dedication, loyalty and devotion to duty" during the City Council meeting Tuesday night. 

"Sgt. Nartatez was my go-to person whenever I needed some insight or liaison," Chief Ralph Martin said. "He has the ability to quickly size up events and has the charisma to handle the most delicate of situations."

Born and raised in Santa Maria, Nartatez recalls working the fields as a youngster with his dad. He graduated from Santa Maria High School in 1976 and later from the Allan Hancock College Law Enforcement Academy.

Nartatez became a reserve police officer in Guadalupe, where he said the department's leaders accommodated the time off he needed to go on several church missionary trips to countries such as Philippine Islands and Venezuela. 

He eventually joined the force full time, quickly rising to become chief of the department in 1991.

“It’s always important to treat people good,” he said. “I had a saying when I was chief in Guadalupe: It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”

As his career evolved, Nartatez has seen big changes in all aspects of law enforcement.

“My first police car was an old Dodge that had a red ball on the top as the emergency light, just one big revolving ball,” he said.

There were no computers in the patrol cars and their radios didn’t work very well. Officers carried revolvers, not automatic handguns. Marksmanship wasn’t the only requirement.

“We used to hand write reports, now you can dictate them,” he said, recalling writing out arrest and search warrants presented to judges.  “You had to have good penmanship back then.”

Day-shift officers in Guadalupe had to pass the department’s two bulletproof vests to their night shift counterparts.

“At that time they were kind of pricey for us so the city bought two whole bulletproof vests for us to share,” he said. 

“They didn’t purchase guns for us or handcuffs,” Nartatez added. “They only gave us a police badge and an ID card. Everything else we had to purchase. Things are definitely different now. You come to departments and they issue everything. We had to buy our own flashlights, and all those things.”

But the city struggled with finances, and Nartatez was raising a young family of four children with his wife, Roberta. After several years, he made the difficult decision to move on to another agency. 

“I love the people there,” he said. “I really didn’t have an opportunity to become a police officer because I was thrust into the chief’s job at an early age," Nartatez recalled. "Struggling with city finances and the budget — I could see it just wasn’t getting any better there, and I needed to take care of my family.”

He went from being the top cop in a small department to being one of many on the Santa Maria force in 1998.

“It was a very humbling experience,” Nartatez said. “But sometimes people need to be humbled to get a good perspective of life. I found myself competing with the other officers, and I want to say I did pretty well..”

He spent some time as a patrol officer, and later a corporal, before being promoted to sergeant in 2001.

Through his career, Nartatez has relied on his strong faith as a member of the Santa Maria Foursquare Church, where he teaches Bible studies. 

It was his faith that helped following his worst day in law enforcement — the fatal shooting that claimed the life of a cousin and colleague, Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr., on Jan. 28, 2012.

With Covarrubias suspected of having an affair with a teen Police Explorer,  Police Department leaders pushed for the officer’s arrested during a DUI checkpoint that night, despite concerns raised by Nartatez and others, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office investigation.

Covarrubias pulled his service revolver, and Nartatez tried to control him, seeing a muzzle flash to his left. The pair fell to the ground. Another officer delivered the fatal shot to Covarrubias.

Nartatez injured his ribs in the scuffle and was off work for six weeks.

“As difficult as it was … I couldn’t wait to wake up the morning to open my Bible to read about love, compassion and forgiveness. That’s what we got me through that,” he said.

The incident led to the departure of former chief Danny Macagni and the arrival of the fourth chief, Martin, since Nartatez joined the force in 1998.

“We’re in a much better place because we have a person who truly has integrity, compassion and really cares for the citizens and, to me, he truly cares for his employees here at the department,” Nartatez said.

So why retire now?

“It’s time,” he said, adding he is looking forward to traveling. “I want to spend more time with my wife, my kids, my grandkids. I just feel the Police Department is doing well with Chief Martin. A lot of positive things are happening.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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