Unsung heroes of Silicon Valley: Michael Catalana
Michael Catalana, CSO, dusts a recovered stolen vehicle for fingerprints. CSOs take on non-emergency calls and other police work that lightens the caseload for police officers. Photo courtesy of Michael Catalana.

From coaching high school sports to serving as a community service officer in the San Jose Police Department, Michael Catalana is a team player through and through.

Since the coronavirus hit the South Bay, Catalana and his fellow CSOs have been out in the neighborhoods handling non-emergency calls, collecting crime scene evidence and interviewing witnesses. CSOs, in their light blue uniforms, are both liaisons to the community and the vital forces needed to free police officers for emergency calls and other cases.

For Catalana, not going to work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic would feel like “letting a lot of people down.”

“It’s just not in my DNA,” he told San José Spotlight. “I like to put a lot into it, and I like to work hard for my team. In turn, they see that, they appreciate it, and they have respect for the CSO program.”

Catalana is no stranger to being part of a team. Growing up, the Campbell native played a variety of sports, including baseball throughout his high school years.

“I was 14, and I started coaching boy’s soccer while I was playing soccer myself,” Catalana said. “I started doing that and knew that I loved it. I had a younger sister who always played, and not having our dad with us growing up, I was always there at her games helping her out. It just really came natural to me.”

By the year 2000, Catalana was the athletics director at Presentation High School and was raising a family with two sons. When Catalana pursued his master’s degree, going to class and student-teaching while also holding down a full-time job was no longer feasible, he said.

Like many teachers, Catalana turned to another job he used to supplement his income: Painting. As the school year came to a close, Catalana lined up a series of painting jobs and opened his painting business soon afterward.

“Quite frankly, I felt kind of lost,” Catalana said. “(Painting) certainly afforded me opportunities, but it was a means to an end. There was always that calling to serve.”

More career changes were in the cards for Catalana when he injured his back in 2009 and found jobs in insurance and hardware. Then his mother and uncle died within weeks of each other in 2018.

“That was really tough,” Catalana said. “I, being the executor to the will, took some time off because I had to manage the estates … and it just took a lot out of me. So I decided that I wasn’t going to work anymore, and I went through a period of time where I thought maybe I would retire and we would move out of the area.”

It was during that time friends working in SJPD suggested Catalana sign up for an 8-week academy for CSO training. One look at the website was all it took for him to start “moving forward” again, Catalana said.

“If I was going to get back into doing something, it was going to be for the right purpose,” he said. “I filled out this application, left it up to God, left it up to whoever was going to see it, and if I was going to get called back, I was going to get called back.”

Charles ‘Chuck’ Hill, supervisor for the Police Department’s CSO program, called Catalana an “all-star.”

“He was always really interested in community service and law enforcement, but he also has a great appreciation for the job that was being offered him,” Hill said. “He has never lost that.”

Joaquin Parra Jr., became good friends with Catalana while they attended the CSO academy. They were a few lockers away from each other and always together in the classroom.

“He was always very upbeat, very positive,” Parra said. “He was always the first to change, first to be out.”

Monique Apolinar, a fellow CSO, said Catalana is a calming presence, who’s patient and thorough with citizens.

“Part of my love for this job is being out reaching out to the community… being seen as someone that’s there to help,” Catalana said.

The story doesn’t end with Catalana though. His oldest son is applying to join the San Jose police academy in the fall with hopes of being a sworn officer and second-generation SJPD member.

“If I would have known 20 years ago what I know now, I believe my life would have been different,” Catalana said. “I love this job, and I am so happy that I finally found it.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at the.loananh.lede@gmail.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, we are highlighting public officials in San Jose who have become unsung heroes by stepping up to help their community in a time of crisis. This is the fourth of a five-part series.

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