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Detective Trapp, Part 1: Women go missing, and police are slow to act

Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

When Julissa Trapp drives through her hometown of Anaheim, it feels to her like "one big crime scene." Every street leads to the site of a remembered stabbing or shooting or chase, to close calls and hard lessons, to dead-eyed killers and inconsolable mothers.

It's a mental map of what the jaded call "Anacrime," the crowded city of 350,000 that encircles Disneyland. It's a map of long business strips that sprang up more than half a century ago and were sidelined by history, the wide boulevards dotted with disappearing relics of indigenous California weirdness -- space-age car washes, gaudy neon signage, kitschy theme motels.

It's a map of neighborhoods that tourists avoid, of blocks menaced by gangs and shadow economies fueled by drugs and sex, of pay-in-cash motels with cages on the night windows where resident families splash in tiny pools hard by the parking lot.

Of course, all of this shares a geography with Trapp's most personal memories, and some of her happiest. Down that street is the little yellow house where she grew up, and down that one is where she first pulled her gun. Over there is her elementary school, and here is where she patrolled in her 20s -- a pixie-haired cop so small at 5-foot-3 that she had to sit on a phone book to see over the steering wheel of the Chevrolet Caprice they assigned her.

Down that way is La Palma Park, where as a rookie she came upon a guy out past curfew. He asked her age and said, "Isn't it past your curfew?" Over there is where she chased a gunman through a series of backyards and gave the wrong block when she radioed for backup, causing a sergeant to bark: Was she trying to get herself killed? She drove up and down the streets and memorized them to ensure it never happened again.

She applied to homicide, and was turned down, four times. After one rejection she asked a senior officer, "What do I need to do to get there?"

 

He told her to get experience in gangs, family crimes or sex crimes. She worked all three. In sex crimes, she won detective of the year. In gangs, her partner rode alongside her in silence for weeks, the implicit message being: Prove you belong here.

She got to homicide in 2010, on her fifth try, and won detective of the year again. She did not feel instantly accepted. She looked like the antithesis of a grizzled murder cop, with a kind face, soft features and freckles on her cheeks, but she had a reputation as brash.

"If you haven't secured my crime scene, I'm going to let you know that I'm not happy about it," she would say. "If you spit seeds in my crime scene, you're going to hear about it."

Once, at the scene of an 8-year-old's shooting death, she snapped at a male sergeant who didn't seem to have a single useful thing to tell her: "What do you know?"

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