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Taking a hit on investments Tom Basinski | Sat, Jan 15 2011 12:00 PM

Imagine being a 32-year-old family man who's been working at his dream job for almost four years. Before that, you had a cool job you really liked - a professional off-road motorcycle racer.

You gave up racing because you knew that being in your late 20s made you almost a geezer within the profession. You didn't want the rest of the guys calling you "Pops" behind your back.

After racing, you pursued the job you always wanted anyway, that of a police officer. You didn't want to be just any police officer. You wanted to be a Chula Vista police officer. In fact, you told them at your interview that if they didn't hire you, you weren't going to try to be a cop somewhere else. You'd be back applying again in six months.

The department was as sold on you as you were on them, and they hired you.

That's how Manny Salazar got his start.

Salazar began thinking about being a local cop when he attended Hilltop High School. He was impressed by school resource officer Kevin Pike, spending time talking with Pike and thinking that police work is what he wanted to do.

Salazar and 22 other uniformed cops were prepared to be gone Jan. 7, until the city gave them an 11th hour reprieve. But, what's a week or two? If it's going to happen, maybe it's better to get on with it so people can get on with their lives.

While many purged officers will be seeking law enforcement work elsewhere, Salazar feels so passionate about working for Chula Vista that he will not go looking.

While hoping a layoff would not actually happen, he has saved up money to help ease the burden, if he does have to pack up and leave. When his savings run out, he said he'll find something to do to earn a living until the city calls him back to work.

"The city made an investment in me. They trusted me. They have spent thousands to give me excellent training in a variety of disciplines in police work. I'm not giving up on the city. I sure hope the city doesn't waste the investment," Salazar said.

During his relatively short time on the department, Salazar has been shot at and chased the guy who shot at him. The shooter was apprehended going into Mexico. Salazar shrugs off the brush with death. He said he believes in the goodness of people and starts off each citizen encounter with the same attitude.

If someone is rude or argumentative, or worse, Salazar said he tries to clean the slate and explain to the disgruntled person that no matter what kind of police officer the person encountered in the past, this is a brand new day. He explains that they should mutually respect one another. Most of the time, this will sooth the most angry of people and then he can get on with what needs to be done.

Salazar believes in the Police Officers' Association.

"We're a union," he says, folding his hands together with fingers intertwined. "Union" doesn't mean picketers and strikers. "union" means something like a marriage.

Salazar doesn't believe the other members are abandoning those about to be laid off.

"We're looking out for one another. We have to protect what we have, even if it means something bad happens to a few of us."

Currently assigned as a motorcycle officer in the traffic division, his primary job is writing tickets, something that won't win many popularity contests. If anyone can smooth over an unpleasant experience like a ticket, Salazar probably can.

One hopes the city's investment will not be lost.

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