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Santa Rosa police aim to bridge divides with new lowrider patrol car in memory of late officer Marylou Armer

A public unveiling of Santa Rosa Police Department’s first-ever lowrider patrol car Saturday was a chance for the community to come together with law enforcement and honor a fallen officer. It was also a time to build relationships and celebrate culture.

Detective Marylou Armer, the first California peace officer to die from complications of COVID-19, was remembered with a mural sprawled across the trunk of the 2011 Crown Victoria that had been transformed into a lowrider.

The culture surrounding lowriders, cars customized with a lowered suspension to cruise as slowly as possible, began in the mid-to-late 1940s in Los Angeles. The vehicles were popular with Mexican American youth.

The patrol car, named The Marylou, was revealed to gasps and applause during the ceremony Saturday in front of Santa Rosa City Hall, sponsored by the Police Department and the city’s Office of Community Engagement. It marked the start of an effort to bridge gaps between police and the community through future events and programming.

“This is our community coming together, especially after a pandemic, and celebrating one of our own,” said Lalo Barragan of Windsor, who knew Armer privately and professionally. He praised the efforts of the city to becoming more inclusive.

The event featured a lowrider car show, Pomo community blessing, performances by the Luther Burbank Center’s Youth Mariachi Group and Ballet-Folklorico Netzahualcoyotl, as well as a showing of The Marylou Lowrider Patrol Car project documentary trailer. The ceremony also included speakers from the Sonoma County Lowrider Council as well as local and state elected officials. People then stood around waiting for their chance to take selfies with The Marylou.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainer Navarro thanked the lowrider council for its hard work while addressing the crowd of about 500 people.

“That really means a lot to us,” he told the crowd. “I see this as an ongoing opportunity to collaborate with the community and build relationships. This lines up with everything we do.”

Jose “Mico” Quirez of the lowrider council saw another lowrider project on YouTube and suggested the idea to Navarro in August 2020.

“This project to our community is a pretty big deal,” Quirez said during the event. “Cruising on Mendocino wasn’t always allowed. Now the city is celebrating our culture with us and for that, I say thank you.”

Lisa Marin, 56, of Larkfield can remember the days of cruising down Santa Rosa’s main drag in the ‘70s, “but you could only do it maybe twice and, boom, you had to be out of there.”

Marin squeezed through the hordes of people trying to get a peak at The Marylou. “I’m really impressed. I really like it,” she said.

“This project was a labor of love and shared passion for cars, artwork and culture,” said Magali Telles, director of community engagement, ahead of the event on the city website.

The project was inspired by similar projects in Stockton, Oakland and San Diego. The car building was completed by various car clubs and solo riders from the Sonoma County lowrider community. Enterprise Rental Cars donated a stereo as bodywork and paint were done by The Body Shop of Santa Rosa.

The cost of transforming the patrol car was estimated at $17,000, funded by the Office of Community Engagement, which was formed as a result of the outcry, protests and demands in Santa Rosa and throughout the nation stemming from the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Future workshops in various Santa Rosa neighborhoods will feature lowriding “as a form of healing from generational trauma, as well as a social cohesion strategy and a way to connect with our Indigenous roots,” the city said in a news release.

“I feel the North Bay is the definition of freedom to express who you are as an individual. This is a beautiful community, we celebrate the community and we also celebrate the diversity,” Barragan said. “There’s always been a deeper level of understanding and a deeper level of community that I’ve seen growing up here.”

Senior Editor Bryce Martin contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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