2021 Laguna Beach officer of the year exits for OCDA

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Capt. David Dereszynski, Capt. Rachel Johnson, 2021 Officer of the Year Det. Brandon Drake, police chief Jeff Calvert at a ceremony in the Council Chambers on May 27. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach police

A major crimes detective elected by his peers as the 2021 Laguna Beach Officer of the Year departed for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

Brandon Drake said he’s grateful for Laguna Beach hiring him out of the academy and will dearly miss working with his station colleagues. But as a husband and father to three- and one-year-olds, the desire for more uninterrupted family time motivated him to make a change.

“Laguna is the agency that took a chance on me. They made me into the officer I am today,” Drake said.

As a major crimes detective, Drake learned to expect a call whenever a significant crime occurred in town. The grueling pace came to a head last Halloween. Drake, his wife, and their then two-year-old had made it a block into trick-or-treating when he was called into work for the second time that day.

“I had several big cases and it started to wear,” he said. “When I had a second kid, I was just waiting for my assignment to be up.”

Former Laguna Beach police officer Brandon Drake. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association

Drake didn’t have the typical childhood interest in becoming a police officer. He graduated from Cal State University Long Beach after earning a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2009. With corporate America still reeling from the Great Recession at that time, Drake said he started looking at governmentjobs.com religiously.

He noticed a police recruit position open with the Orange Police Department and went on a ride-along with the agency, which hooked him into a law enrichment career. He later decided to pay his own way through the police academy and graduated in 2015.

After completing field training, Drake was assigned to field services, where he excelled as a patrol officer for two and a half years, according to the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association. In 2018, Brandon was promoted to general crimes detective and then major crimes detective in less than two years.

Drake investigated the 2019 homicide at Laguna Terrace, a Costa Mesa nanny charged with molesting two boys, the fatal 2020 shooting of a Los Angeles attorney at Laguna Lido, a 2018 home invasion robbery, and officers shooting a man after a 2021 pursuit on Coast Highway, according to a police union statement.

During his time with Laguna Beach, Drake completed over 750 hours of training in investigating cyber crimes, sexual assault, homicides, human trafficking, robberies, and identity theft. After completing his investigation rotation earlier this year, Drake returned to patrol earlier sharing his extensive training and experience with new hires.

“Brandon, we are better for having known you, and we wish you well in your new home. We will forever miss your wit, humor, tenacity, and grit. Thank you for serving your community honorably and professionally. We wish we could’ve kept you,” the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Association Board of Directors said in a statement.

Drake will join over 130 sworn police Investigators with the Bureau of Investigation at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He underscored that he bears no grudge toward his former employer.

“I know that everyone has their own reasons for leaving but my reason is to focus on my professional development in investigations,” Drake said.

Drake isn’t the only Laguna Beach police employee to decamp this month. Jailer Cesar Orozco, who started as a police aide in 2018, recently accepted a position as an Irvine code enforcement officer.

Following an uptick in on-duty injuries and employees poached by other agencies, Laguna Beach is offering a one-time $15,000 bonus to police officers and dispatchers who sign on by Dec. 31.

To compensate current employees tasked with extra hours through the end of September, the City will pay double-time pay to officers, corporals, sergeants, dispatchers, and senior dispatchers, according to the City’s side letter of agreement with the police union.

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