“I’ll go!” rookie cop Martha Sainz enthusiastically responded to the request in the mid 1990’s for transfers to move to the new Mid-City Police station located in the heart of City Heights. “I wasn’t afraid because I lived in City Heights,” continued Sainz, who grew up only half a mile from where the Mid-City station is located.
“Drugs and gangs were really big there at that time. A bunch of rookie cops volunteered with me and then within six to eight months everyone wanted to come here!” she said with a smile. “Nope! I’m not willing to trade,” Sainz told all her fellow cops who asked to switch with her.
Sainz, now a Captain with the San Diego Police Southern Division, was born in 1969, in San Diego, one of six children raised by her hard-working parents who moved here from Mexico. Neither of her parents had the chance to finish school and they wanted their children to have more opportunities. A graduate of Hoover High School, Sainz always had her sights set on college and went on to eventually get a Master’s as well. She attributes her success not only to her parents’ encouragement but also the support she received from teachers and coaches at Hoover where sports became an active part of her life.
“My coach, Hal Mitrovich, kept me on point! He was a mentor and really cared about me,” she reflected. “I think it’s important for youth to have someone they can talk to and who believes they can do well.”
Sainz was also involved in a youth group during high school at Our Lady of Sacred Heart in City Heights where she first met Rosario Iannacone, who has worked with Price since 1998. “Martha was always a vibrant and fun person,” shared Iannacone. “She was a natural leader, bringing people together and creating community wherever she went.”
When Sainz was 21, a couple of officers in City Heights recognized her leadership qualities and encouraged her to join the police department. “They told me there weren’t enough female officers especially who spoke Spanish and they convinced me to apply,” Sainz recalled. “I was hired within three months and have now been with the academy for 30 years.” She laughingly reminisced how she didn’t tell her parents until the night before going to the academy because she didn’t want them to worry and try to talk her out of it.
“There were so many challenges in City Heights at the time, too many barriers for youth,” Sainz shared. “The programs that exist now like at the Copley-Price YMCA, weren’t here back then. The Police academy provided me an opportunity to succeed and be actively involved in my community.”
Helping others in need has always been the main motivation for Sainz. Each promotion provided new opportunities for creatively serving people such as organizing a group of officers to clean up an old apartment complex owned by an elderly WWII veteran who was being bullied by squatters and securing funding to buy beds for children who became orphans through a domestic violence incident.
Two recent fatal domestic violence calls her team responded to demonstrated that her concern is not only for the victims involved, but also for the mental health of her officers who are affected by the trauma they experience. She feels it’s important for their own healing to be able to give back after heart-breaking situations. One of the latest situations led to a grandmother suddenly having to take care of two grandchildren without adequate resources.
“I asked my team what they thought we should do and they immediately had a plan to provide them with beds, clothes, and the other items they needed,” Sainz said. “They were also thinking about long-term programs like at the Copley-Price YMCA, to help them heal from this tragedy. I told them I would call Mr. Price, as he’s never said no so far,” she shared with a smile. Sainz called her childhood friend Rosario and within a couple of days she came back to her team with the funds to buy beds and the other items the children needed. She also introduced the grandmother to Rosario who went to the house and helped her fill out the YMCA paperwork.
“For Martha, it’s not only about helping people in the community but also about taking care of her own police officers by engaging them in making a difference for people during difficult circumstances,” Iannacone stated. “She’s a connector and motivates people to come together through creative solutions.”
Mr. Price chose Captain Sainz as our first City Heights hero as he feels she is a perfect example of a City Heights resident who has used her success to give back to the neighborhood. Price shared. “Her success and commitment to the community in many ways defines what my father was hoping to achieve, with people being proud to be a part of their community.”