How a Calif. deputy police chief tricked a suspect into driving himself to his own arrest

Deputy Chief Travis Martinez won awarded last week for his role in capturing the fugitive as well as other crime-solving initiatives


By Brian Rokos
The Press-Enterprise
        
REDLANDS, Calif. — Now it can be told.

In November, an off-duty Redlands police officer tricked a suspect in an armed robbery into driving from Rancho Mirage to the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, where officers were waiting to arrest him.

But the identity of the clever cop had publicly remained a secret — until now.

Deputy Police Chief Travis Martinez was revealed to be that officer this week when the city announced that Martinez won the Officer of the Year Award from the California Robbery Investigators Association, which praised Martinez for his role in capturing the fugitive as well as other crime-solving initiatives.

“This is really me collecting the award on behalf of the entire Redlands Police Department,” said Martinez, 49, who has spent his entire 27-year career with that agency.

The investigators association noted that Martinez helped develop a tracking program in which small GPS devices are hidden inside commonly stolen items such as cars, city property, bicycles and construction equipment. When the property is moved, a signal is sent to officers’ phones. Martinez credited detectives, patrol officers and records clerks, among others, with working together to make more than 325 arrests through tracking stolen property.

The association also highlighted an arrest Martinez assisted on in September. As he was leaving a University of Redlands football game, Martinez received a tracking alert that two gas station robbery suspects were nearby.

When Martinez arrived, another officer began chasing one suspect on foot, with Martinez close behind, running in flip-flops. He called upon the skills he used as a defensive back for the Redlands football team in the early 1990s.

“He cut back to jump over the fence. He had to run a good 40 to 50 yards and cut back, and I was able to tackle him,” Martinez said.

The casino ploy came two months later.

On Nov. 29, someone robbed the Union 76 gas station at 1075 Parkford Drive in Redlands at about 5:30 a.m. The robber made off with money along with one of the tracking devices and drove east on the 10 Freeway. Police knew the location of the tracker but didn’t have a description of the car. So when police lost contact with their dispatcher, they backed off.

Fortunately, Martinez, who was off duty, received the tracking alert and followed the signal to the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. There, he eventually saw a man walk toward the casino but wasn’t sure if the man was the robber.

Martinez quickly hit upon a plan. He needed the man to get back in his car and drive to see whether the tracker, which was stationary, would resume moving. He told the man that he was supposed to meet friends at a nearby casino but didn’t know the name. So the man rattled off the names of three, and Martinez chose one.

Martinez, who didn’t let on that he was a police officer, offered the man $100 to drive to that casino, with Martinez following. The ruse worked.

“The tracker starts moving, so I knew it was him,” Martinez said.

Martinez called nearby law enforcement agencies and asked them to intercept the suspect. But when the suspect exited the freeway before police could arrive, Martinez doubled down on his gambit.

Martinez knew he’d be able to muster more officers if he could get the suspect to drive west on the 10. So he pulled alongside the man’s car, offering him $100 more if he would lead him to the Morongo Casino — the 27-story tower in Cabazon that rises high above everything else for miles and isn’t exactly difficult to find without a tour guide.

Yet the man took the bait.

“It just shows you what someone will do for money,” Redlands Police Chief Chris Catren said.

When the suspect exited the freeway in Cabazon, Riverside County sheriff’s deputies pulled him over and arrested him. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree robbery and is awaiting trial.
Martinez downplayed his quick thinking.

“Law enforcement has a good tendency to adapt to the situation at hand. This is something the men and women do every day while out on patrol,” he said.

Martinez managed to fool the suspect, but he wasn’t a fool himself. Because he operated on a cash-on-delivery basis, Martinez never handed over the money that he had promised the suspect.

“My daughter tells me I still owe him $200,” Martinez said.
    
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