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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Failure is not acceptable for corrections program graduate

August 16, 2018

SJVC Ontario Corrections program graduate Laura CruzAt a petite 5’1″ and 110 lbs., you may think Laura Cruz wouldn’t be attracted to a career in law enforcement. But a family member’s misstep and subsequent reporting to a probation officer planted an important career seed in her.

“Due to my mom being only a Spanish-speaker and my dad always working in order to provide for us five kids, I would have to go with my mom to her meetings with my brother’s probation officer to translate for her,” says Laura. “The way my brother’s probation officer interacted with him and tried to get him to the right path, motivated me to become a probation officer.”

She held that thought through a few fast-food jobs after high school before she decided to act. “I talked with my parents and told them I wanted to go to college and major in Criminal Justice,” says Laura. “Even though money was tight, both of my parents supported me and helped me.”

Laura knew several others who had gone to SJVC Ontario for the Corrections program, so it was her first choice.

She started the Criminal Justice Corrections program in April 2015 and absorbed everything she could about her chosen field. “I learned about different departments, such as corrections, probation, police and sheriff departments, highway patrol, border patrol and other agencies,” she says. “That’s when I realized that I wanted to be on the streets catching the bad guys.”

Laura pushed herself hard. “I was very fortunate to become part of the Criminal Justice Command Staff,” she says. “As time went by, I was voted captain for the whole Criminal Justice program. Being captain was a huge responsibility, yet a huge blessing because others around me saw the potential in me.”

Laura graduated in July 2016 with perfect attendance and recognition for being on the Dean’s List.

Unfortunately, the momentum and confidence she had gained throughout her Corrections program began to erode with personal and career setbacks. Laura lost her grandmother and experienced a bad breakup. She applied for law enforcement positions with two departments at her local police department. No call-back. She was emotionally drained.

“I was working in a security position and was a cashier for a retail store,” says Laura. She was discouraged, but still stayed in touch with her Criminal Justice Program Director, Darryl Chesnut. “I was telling him how I was very upset that I didn’t make it (police position) and that I’d stopped applying.”

“I remember Mr. Chesnut telling me, ‘When one door closes, another one opens,’” says Laura. He encouraged Laura to apply to the San Bernardino Police Department (SBPD). She followed his advice, and on April 6, 2017, she submitted a job application.

“On April 12th, I received an email saying that I was invited to do my Physical Agility Test,” says Laura. “And they waived my written test due to me having my Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice (from SJVC).”

Then came the interview process. “I was beyond nervous, but I knew that I had the potential to become successful because, not only did I attend a great college, I was taught by the best of the best, which was Mr. Chesnut and all the other instructors that took their time to make sure we were all well prepared for our future careers.”

Laura started her background employment check with the San Bernardino Police Department in June and was approved to train in the 6-month San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Academy in October. “Those six months were a crazy ride for many of us where our knowledge, strength and teamwork were put to the test.”

In March 2018, Laura was one of the 80 trainees who made it to graduation. Then the career for which she worked so hard began in earnest.

She is sharpening her knowledge and skill sets every day. “When we graduate from the academy, we don’t go straight to the streets,” explains Laura. “We ride along with a senior Field Training Officer (FTO) during four phases, six weeks each. Phase One, we observe and take notes. Phase Two: We respond to calls, taking charge for the most part in conducting interviews and investigations. Phase Three: We’re considered a solo officer, and even though the FTO is with you, you are expected to respond to calls as though you are alone. Phase Four: It’s considered a ‘ghost phase;’ you still have a FTO with you, but they are not doing a thing. They want you to take charge and respond and know you are going to do the job on your own.”

Laura is close to finishing her second phase and is finding out that performing procedures correctly is only half of the challenges of a law enforcement position. “Setting personal feelings aside is a very difficult thing at first,” she admits. “Now I’m like ‘poker face.’ For the most part I’m like a statue, responding professionally, calm. But if I have to be aggressive, I’ll be aggressive.”

Laura’s first emergency call put all she had learned about emotional control into practice, as she faced a family’s tragic loss. A parent accidentally backed over her young child in the driveway, and Laura’s job was to interview neighbors about what they saw and heard. Police, fire department and paramedics were all on scene.

“Parents were crying, holding their child,” says Laura. “Part of me wanted to drop down and cry with the mother and give her a hug,” says Laura. Instead, she had to embody the statue she kept close at heart. “You may be dying on the inside but must remain professional and be strong for the family.”

It was Laura’s strength that got her through her education, training and street experience for the career she is just beginning.

“I have learned and been told that it does not matter how small, big, smart, strong you may be,” she says. “What really matters is that, if you believe in yourself and know that you have potential to become someone in this world, why not take that risk and go after what you want. And if you fail the first time, get back up, push forward, and continue to work hard.”

The long arm of the law has recently grown several powerful inches.


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