Harlen “Lamb” Lambert, the first African-American police officer hired in Orange County, was honored by the University Honors Program with a community leadership award in the Pollak library on Tuesday.
Lambert was hired to work at the Santa Ana Police Department Dec. 1966. During his time as a police officer, he earned a Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, which is the highest state award given to public safety officers.
Privileged, Humbled and Honored to meet and participate in the Honoring of Harlen "Lamb" Lambert, the First Black Police Officer in Orange County's History @csuf ! @SantaAnaPD , @OCGovCA , @SBCUSDPOLICE , @noblenatl @SBCCDPDChief @ChiefSissac @OntarioPDChief @UplandPD_Chief pic.twitter.com/SIFchF4Atm
— Chief Paulino (@SBSPDjpaulino) March 27, 2019
Lambert talked about his time in the police department and some of the mistreatment that he faced from his training officer, a white man from Mississippi.
“He took me from the department (to) the end of the city in an orange grove. I was sitting on the passenger side. I didn’t know he was going to do this. He drove in the orange grove, stopped his vehicle, and cut the lights out,” Lambert said.
Lambert proceeded to tell how the man threw him out of the car, drove off, then went back and did it again multiple times.
“I didn’t understand what he was doing,” Lambert said. “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to say. No one ever told me anything like this.”
Lambert’s wife Sharron Read-Lambert also spoke about Lambert’s experience growing up in Louisiana.
“Lamb came from Jim Crow South where they had to have permission to go to town, where they have to get off the sidewalk if a white person was walking,” Read-Lambert said. “It didn’t stop him from wanting to work, it didn’t stop him from wanting to protect.”
Apart from being a police officer, Lambert is also a poet. He self-published two collections of poems called “Affairs of the Heart, Volume 1” in 2016 and “Affairs of the Heart, Volume 2” in 2017, which are about his struggles living out of the country for two years.
Lambert and his wife are currently writing a memoir about his life called “Badge of Color – Breaking the Silence.” Once Read-Lambert began researching her husband’s past, she discovered that Lambert was non-existent in Santa Ana Police files after the first article written about him had disappeared.
“Had he not saved letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, he would still be non-existent,” said Read-Lambert.
After his time as a police officer, Lambert began training dogs for K-9 law enforcement units in 1972 and continued the profession with his wife until they retired. Read-Lambert said that they owned a training facility at the Fullerton Municipal Airport until 2015.
Sharon Sekhon, adjunct professor of American studies at CSUF and organizer of the event, said she wanted Lambert to be honored on campus because a university is seen as a special place to authenticate someone’s legacy to the outside world.
“He continues to be a leader by sharing his history, showing up for other people and always representing what it means to be a public servant,” said Sekhon.