SOLEDAD — Forty years of service at the City of Soledad Police Department concluded for Maria “Nena” Lopez last Friday, Nov. 1.
Lopez came in to work at her regular time and performed her duties as the executive assistant to the chief of police and police records supervisor before walking out the door and into retirement.
“I pretty much put off packing up my stuff until yesterday afternoon,” Lopez said. “I kept busy all morning with my regular daily tasks and my co-workers prepared lunch, carne asada and tripas tacos with avocado salsa, and then cake. The people I worked with, you become a family with them. You spend more of your time at work with them than you do at home sometimes. They are with you during good and difficult times.”
Lopez, the daughter of Ray and Cuca Lopez, is the youngest of seven children and began her career with the Soledad Police Department in 1979 as a part-time finance clerk and also drove the city taxi. The police chief at the time, Ben Jimenez, then hired Lopez to serve as his secretary.
In her 40 years at the department, Lopez worked for many police chiefs, including Jimenez, Tom Engstrom, Russ Carlson, Jack Griggs, John Hough, Richard Cox and recently retired Eric Sills. She also worked for interim chiefs Willie Brown, Bill Price, Fred Perez and Steve Belcher.
“It’s a whole different work working in law enforcement, whether sworn in or not,” Lopez said. “Because our sense of humor is a bit warped, you see the worst in people and what people are capable of doing to other people. A good way to ‘decompress’ is to always look for the humor in life. There’s a lot of teasing and poking fun at each other, and we all dish it out, but we also take it.”
Lopez has seen how computers and technology in general have become essential instruments in keeping police records updated.
“Almost every Department of Justice (DOJ) section, being statistical reporting, validating stolen vehicles, boats and vessels and missing persons, is now a web application,” Lopez said. “Everything is entered electronically, including entering sex offenders, in the DOJ, sex and arson registry, everything is entered into the website. The goal is to become paperless. Even our arrest records are filed electronically with the District Attorney.”
Lopez has raised five children — Sebastian Lopez, Yesenia Lopez, Marco Lopez, David Luna Jr. and Samantha Luna — with the help of lifetime friend, David Luna, and loves spending time with her grandchildren Brian, Jacob, Keehanna and Aiden.
While Lopez is looking forward to her retirement, she will miss her job and especially the people that she has worked with at the Soledad Police Department.
“It’s a unique environment, and I’ll miss it for sure,” she said. “I spent a third of my life there at work. It’s not that easy to leave, as I loved those that I have worked with, including those that have gone on to other agencies or have retired.”