With the lowest badge number (37), Det. Sgt. Colleen Vincent has more experience working for the Signal Hill Police Department than anyone on the force today.
For police, the lowest badge number is often considered “the best” to have, she said. In fact, most Signal Hill officers at the department today have now either worked for her or with her.
After 30 years of public service with the police department, which she calls her “second home,” Vincent is now retiring with her last day being today, Sept. 20.
“It’s weird for me,” Vincent said. “In so many of my memories, I was the new officer, and you had all the old sergeants… Now, I’m the old sergeant. At times, I did get that nickname ‘Mother Goose,’ or whatever, because I’d look around, and I’d, literally, be old enough to be everybody’s mother on the shift.”
Vincent, who has two full personnel files, has taken on nearly every law-enforcement job at the department, including patrol officer, K-9 unit, senior police officer, field training officer, detective, patrol sergeant and, lastly, detective sergeant.
The only job she hasn’t filled, she said, is traffic officer, adding that she’s “not a fan” of the position. “I never especially liked giving people tickets,” Vincent said. “I’d much rather arrest them or be nice to them.”
Though she lives in Anaheim with her family, Vincent has been heavily involved in the Signal Hill community. Nearly 14 years ago, she nearly single-handedly took on the police department’s drug- and gang-prevention efforts, most recently working with the Long Beach Unified School District’s educational program Too Good for Drugs and previously with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) programs.
“I’ve been involved in that for many, many years,” she said, adding that she began teaching drug- and gang-prevention lessons in schools and now supervises the program.
Vincent has also been involved with the Signal Hill nonprofit Drug and Gang Prevention, has helped coordinate the police department’s Christmas outreach program and assisted the annual Sultans Car Club of Long Beach car show that takes place at Signal Hill Park. She said proceeds from the car show help to fund drug and gang prevention and the department’s Explorer program.
Graduating from Cal State Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then from Loyola Marymount University with a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling, Vincent first decided to seek a job in law-enforcement with the thinking that it would be a better fit for her personality, she said.
Vincent’s first choice was to work for the Signal Hill Police Department, hoping to work for a small town with a lot of history. After graduating 15th in her class at the police academy, Vincent became a police officer in 1983. It was at the police department where she “grew up” not only as a police officer but as an adult as well, Vincent said.
In the last three decades, Signal Hill has “changed tremendously,” she said, transforming from a “rough” town with nothing more than oil wells, prostitutes and “dopers” to a “civilized and cultured” community with “nice homes,” stores and gas stations. “The population has changed, the environment has changed, so we kind of have to change with it,” Vincent said.
Throughout her career, Vincent has had “lots of adventures,” she said, including once taking a stint to go after marijuana fields in northern California.
Vincent has also been a highly athletic individual, both in her career and personal life. As a long-distance runner, she received 11 medals in the California Police Olympics, the World Police Olympics and the Police and Fire Games for running the 1,500-meter and 800-meter races and the team triathlon. Vincent said, however, she had to stop running after being struck by a drunk driver that totaled her police vehicle, leaving her with back injuries.
Today, however, Vincent’s service to the public is what has garnered her the awards and accolades. During the last City Council meeting on Sept. 16, a packed room of police personnel, family and friends filled the Signal Hill Chamber to honor Vincent for her long career with the police department.
Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston said Vincent will be “sorely missed” and hopes she will return to serve as a reserve officer. “Thirty years in any profession is a long time; 30 years serving the public in public safety is exceptional,” Langston said.
Vincent was then handed a bouquet of flowers. She also received proclamations from the City of Signal Hill, Sen. Ricardo Lara’s office, Congressmember Alan Lowenthal’s office and Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal’s office.
Senior Det. Alexander Gabaldon, who has been with the police department for 11 years, said in a phone interview that his experience working with Vincent has been “a pleasant one.” He added, “she’s one of the sweetest persons anyone can meet and cares for the people she works with. We’re going to miss her. That’s for sure. She’s one of those people you can rely on and count on. Everybody here just wishes her the best.”
As for what Vincent has planned now, the veteran police officer said she is hoping to volunteer at a horse ranch in Lancaster where they rescue wild horses for them to be adopted.
“That’s my next path,” Vincent said. “A new adventure.”