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When journalists need comment from someone in the San Diego Police Department, Gary Hassen’s usually the one they talk to. Hassen’s a detective and senior public information officer for the department.
He also sings.
“I’m a detective, I’m a PIO, and just as a sidebar I happen to sing,” he said.
I was amazed to learn about this other side of Hassen when he got up to sing the national anthem for the State of the City address a few years ago.
Hassen was one of the first who came to my mind, so I called him Tuesday. Turns out he was scheduled to sing the national anthem for the graduation ceremony for the department’s training program for senior citizen volunteers yesterday.
I showed up to the War Memorial building in Balboa Park for the graduation ceremony a few minutes before 1 p.m. and noticed Hassen outside, strolling along the sidewalk. I couldn’t hear from my car, but it looked like he was singing a bit outside to warm up his voice.
When I met him inside, he was holding a half-guzzled liter bottle of water and standing by the open door — to stay cool in his wool uniform, he said.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a pitch pipe to help him find his starting note — E-flat.
Tools of the trade, he said.
He got up to sing as part of the beginning pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. Below is a bootleg video I shakily shot on an iPhone at the ceremony today to give you a taste of the spokesman’s song:
A couple of days ago, I chatted with Hassen about his singing self. He has studied voice performance in several styles, including opera, but he prefers to sing in more of a musical theatre style.
“Opera is lovely,” he said. “But I’m more contemporary. I’m more of a crooner.”
Hassen started singing in junior high and never stopped. He’s been singing for more than 40 years and has been working for the Police Department for more than 20. Now he directs San Diego County’s law enforcement choir, occasionally pulling together quartets or duets for different events. He’s especially fond of a quartet with himself, a Border Patrol agent, a woman who’s a parole officer and another woman who’s a cop for San Diego City Schools.
Sometimes, like today, he sings solo.
“It’s hokey, but it’s part of what makes us who we are,” he said. “It really and truly is an honor to sing on behalf of the department.”