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Guest opinion by Jessica DiCostanzo

San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition: You have a long and celebrated history of serving the community. Can you tell us how you got into law enforcement?

Brad Gates: I was born in Orange at St. Joseph Hospital and raised in the house my father built. I attended Capistrano Grade School. I started riding at Rancho Mission Viejo on a horse named Squint. Squint was a bay horse with a white eye. In those days, Orange County was very rural, and you could ride your horse into town for breakfast. My friends and I even rode our horses from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore, which was a two-day trip there, camping along the way and then rode back over the mountain. Riding horses led to an interest in joining a junior mounted posse as a teenager. The junior mounted posse unit was used to work parades and other events. Being in the posse made me interested in law enforcement, and in 1961, I joined the Orange County Sheriff’s Department until retiring as Sheriff-Coroner in 1999. 

SJCEC: Can you describe what South Orange County looked like when you were growing up?

Gates: The land around El Toro was open range with cattle, and San Juan was mostly orange groves and black walnut groves. My friends and I would drive the cattle from Laguna Niguel to San Juan, where we would load the cattle onto trucks. The local kids would also help in the orange groves. We even got out of school to help with smudging when temperatures dropped. Smudging is a way to keep the orange trees from freezing, and the growers needed help to save their trees and fruit.

Former Orange County Sheriff and Orange County native Brad Gates has ridden horses all his life. Photo: Courtesy of the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition

SJCEC: You have sat on many nonprofit boards and lived a lifetime of service. Can you tell us about your favorite service organizations you have worked with, and is there a project or an organization that stands out that you would like to share? 

Gates: I grew up next door to the Scout Hut and have always known and loved the Boy Scout organization. The Boys and Girls Clubs and their impact on communities is also very dear to my heart. While I was in office as the Sheriff-Coroner, the OC Sheriff’s Department created a drug abuse determent program called “Drug Abuse Is Life Abuse.” Drug Use is Life Abuse is a support group of the Orange County Sheriff’s Advisory Council. The program was formed in response to drug abuse and the collateral damage it does to a community. I am proud of the way this organization brings together leaders in business, government, education, religion, families, and law enforcement to work together toward changing the way society perceives drug use.

Jessica DiCostanzo is a San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition Board Member, lifelong equestrian, and co-founder of

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