Benny Rodriguez stood just over 5’6” and weighed about 140 lbs. Despite his smaller stature, he was a “mountain of a man who exemplified the best of the Santa Ana Police Department”, said Chief David Valentin of the Santa Ana Schools Police Department.
Rodriguez, a retired Corporal from the Santa Ana Police Department (California) passed away on December 28th, 2012, after a battle with cancer. He was 62. On January 4th, 2013, the Santa Ana Police, Santa Ana School Police, and Orange County Sheriff’s departments honored Rodriguez’s life of service during his funeral at a small Catholic church in Santa Ana, not far from the neighborhood where he was raised.
Rodriguez was a Santa Ana native. His grandparents were one of the first residents to settle in Santa Ana’s Logan Neighborhood when it was still lined with orange groves. He was a product of the Santa Ana Unified School District and a graduate of Santa Ana High School. He started his law enforcement career in 1978 as a Reserve Deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Rodriguez always desired to work for the Santa Ana Police Department. His father, Frank Rodriguez, was the very first Hispanic officer hired by Santa Ana PD. It would take him several times to apply before finally being hired as an officer with Santa Ana PD in 1980.
Rodriguez worked patrol before being assigned as an investigator in several divisions of the Crimes against Persons bureau. He was nothing short of a brilliant investigator. In his very first year working in investigations, he was named “Investigator of the Year”, an elite accomplishment never before achieved by a first year investigator at Santa Ana PD and has yet to be repeated. As a Corporal, he was chosen to work in Internal Affairs, a division that is normally reserved for sergeants.
I first met Rodriguez at his house in 2002. He was a neighboring friend of my grandfather. I could not help but notice the grass in his front yard was all cut the same direction. Unlike a gardener who cuts grass in rows in a back-and-forth manner, Rodriguez’s yard looked more like the infield of a professional baseball field. He had his truck up on blocks in the driveway with the wheels removed. They were lined up next to each other as Rodriguez neatly polished them. He must have seen the bewildered look on my grandfather’s face because he took a moment to explain there was nothing wrong with the wheels; he was simply cleaning the brake dust off of them. I remember the disbelief I had thinking Rodriguez was one of Santa Ana’s finest officers. My grandfather often told me stories that Rodriguez had shared with him regarding the latest investigations Rodriguez was working. He was smaller in stature and had a crafty smile. I was surprised at the firm grip he had on my hand when he grabbed it to shake during our introduction. He spoke softly, but in such an assertive tone that I knew this was a man who demanded respect. And yet, he was not a person to boast or brag of his accomplishments.
Santa Ana PD lost an irreplaceable asset to their department when Rodriguez retired a few years ago. His work ethic and dedication to duty were never matched. He enjoyed spending time with family and friends in retirement. In the last year, Rodriguez was in the toughest fight of his life as he battled cancer until he passed away in late December. During Rodriguez’s funeral, Santa Ana School Police Chief Valentin gave a very moving summary of Rodriguez’s professional accomplishments. Rodriguez’s younger brother, Richard Rodriguez, who is a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, told personal stories of growing up with his brother. Those in attendance laughed and cried as we shared fond memories of the man we knew. It matters not whether you knew Rodriguez for a long time or a short time, he undoubtedly touched the lives of all those around him. There are countless officers still working at Santa Ana PD who Rodriguez mentored in some fashion over the course of his illustrious career. It is those officers who now carry on his legacy.