LOS ANGELES – Chris Reza is known in Boyle Heights as the “mariachi policeman.”
Reza, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, uses music to “break the ice” with the public and to strengthen community relations.
“The idea is to humanize the badge,” Reza told EFE in Mariachi Plaza, located just a short distance from his workplace and where he has performed with his band – Mariachi Los Servidores – made up of police officers from Southern California.
There, among the murals depicting aspects of Mexican heritage and a statue dedicated to singer Lucha Reyes, Reza shows up in his dark blue police uniform and sings several songs in the traditional “charro” style for the crowd, who don’t hesitate to congratulate him.
“The people see something and they come up to talk with you. They feel that we’re part of the community. They don’t see a police officer singing in broad daylight every day. It breaks down the barrier between the police and the public. It breaks the ice that’s linked with the uniform,” he said.
Reza and his group’s next performance will be on Sunday at the Downey Theatre, where they will offer a concert of “ranchero” music called “Violins, not Violence,” the aim of which is to collect money to buy musical instruments that will be donated to the music departments of several schools.
“I think that bringing music to kids is a necessity. It allows them to get away from the gangs and the weapons. I have friends who tell me that if they weren’t mariachis, they’d be dead or in jail,” Reza said.
“When the kids see us perform, you can tell that they haven’t had that kind of interaction with police officers. They used to look at us in another way. And if we can help them to choose a good path to follow in life, why wouldn’t you do that?” he asked.
Reza arrives at the Hollenbeck police station at 6 every morning and there he takes care of leftover work from the night shift, prepares reports, talks with victims in the cases he’s handling, contacts the district attorneys...
He is tasked, in particular, with investigating crimes against property: thefts, assaults, robberies, vandalism and vehicle thefts. He’s been doing the work for 19 years.
But music is his real passion and he has never been able to hide it.
“I grew up listening to mariachi music. My mother was a singer at parties and weddings and she inculcated that love (of music) in me. I continued along her path, first a little bit in the shadows and later while I went to class to become a police officer. There were highs and lows, but it’s difficult to give up something when you love it so much,” Reza said.
He began his musical career organizing small public performances featuring the traditional mariachi “charro” outfit.
Soon, however, his colleagues noted his hobby and asked him to get involved in community activities.
One of those events came at the request of a family whose mother had a terminal disease, and they wanted him to organize the “Quinceañera” – or 15-year-old coming out party – for her daughter, who was paralyzed.
“At first, I didn’t want to mix my work with my passion. That was something strange for people, but now it’s not so strange thanks to the community work we do. Now, I sing in my police uniform, but it came out naturally at that (party),” Reza said.
“It was a small event with a big police presence. We were all in uniform and so I decided to sing ... I got very positive comments from the family and members of the community. They were very grateful and thought that it was a very positive thing. It was good to incorporate the idea of having many objectives in life and not giving up on your dreams,” he said.
After the success of his performance, which got great play on the social networks in November 2017, Reza decided to create the Mariachi Los Servidores with colleagues from other police stations.
“It wasn’t always like this, but now I feel very comfortable as a police officer who sings mariachi. Each time I feel a little more natural” in that role,” he said.