Cops’ colleagues talk about their jobs
The paranormal played a bit part in Anita Rodriguez’s career choice and current job as a crime analyst with the Modesto Police Department. The Modesto resident remembers being 13 years old and wanting to become an FBI agent because she loved watching actress Gillian Anderson’s character, Agent Dana Scully, investigate the strange and unexplained on the TV show “The X Files.”
“I think I’ve always been drawn to investigating things,” said Rodriguez, 36. “I like looking deeper into everything around me.”
TV-fueled dreams aside, the Modesto native who grew up in Merced really had little idea as a young teen what occupation she’d pursue, Rodriguez said. But while taking an introductory criminal justice course at California State University, Stanislaus, she realized it was a field she could see herself enjoying.
There’s a breadth to law enforcement agencies far beyond the most visible position of sworn officer. Crime analyst is among many nonsworn jobs, also including clerks, police assistants, property and evidence technicians, animal control officers and community service officers.
Across three divisions — operations, investigative services and support — the Modesto Police Department has an authorized strength of 240 sworn officers and 78 nonsworn personnel. Those in the latter group don’t carry guns and for the most part don’t wear uniforms.
The security and benefits of government work appeal to a lot of people, Lt. Steve Stanfield said in a recent interview, and the 24-7 nature of police work also can be a draw. “Clerical staff in other fields are 9 to 5, but that doesn’t fit here. … There’s a shift for you here.” He commented on one nonsworn employee who prefers the graveyard shift because that’s what her spouse works at his job. “So it’s perfect, they both work the night shift and they go home at the same time.”
Various full- and part-time personnel keep the department running, Stanfield said. They pull fingerprints, process crime scenes. They monitor surveillance cameras, write parking tickets and process paperwork for detectives.
“In the department’s property evidence building, they process all of the thousands of items of property we collect, and categorize them and bar code them and prepare them for court,” he said.
They handle cases like burglaries and missing persons. They set up DUI checkpoints.
The department always is hiring. “Our sworn officer recruiting never closes,” Stanfield said, and the MPD recruiting page showed Tuesday that cadet, officer recruit and officer trainee positions also are open.
The lieutenant, a recently sworn officer and three nonsworn department employees recently spoke about their paths to the MPD and the jobs they do.
The crime analyst
Law enforcement combines two things that appeal to Rodriguez: solving problems and helping people. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Stanislaus State, she landed her first professional position, as a clerk with the MPD, in 2007.
Her university education — not a prerequisite to nearly any of the positions at the MPD, Stanfield said — prepared her well, Rodriguez said, but she still underwent a lot of on-the-job training. And she sought information and experiences well beyond what was required.
“I took it upon myself to learn everything I could about how the different departments (within MPD) work together,” she said. She worked a few different clerk positions, learning the computer programs and building her knowledge. “You take on collateral assignments, special assignments, you can really get into the department.”
From investigations clerk, Rodriguez was promoted to police technician, then last year to crime analyst.
Among the duties of a crime analyst are collecting and evaluating crime-related data; providing information and recommendations on patterns, series and crime trends; assisting with the coordination of investigations between jurisdictions; and providing investigative support and assistance to officers, detectives and other specialized units by preparing publications, correspondence, charts and graphs.
Reflecting on her 12 years (and counting) with the MPD, Rodriguez said, “I didn’t know I would be here this long, but there are so many opportunities” within the department. “It is what you make of it.”
The community service officer
Like Rodriguez, Liliana Espinoza discovered her passion for criminal justice at Stanislaus State. The now-24-year-old originally intended to study nursing, but soon decided that wasn’t for her. She tried a criminal justice class and “honestly just fell in love,” she said.
In her chosen major, “everything just clicked, it came naturally to me,” Espinoza said. In other subjects, she found herself working her tail off to know enough by test time to do well, she said, “but for criminal justice, everything was pretty easy for me, and intriguing. I would never be bored in class.”
The student was supposed to have an internship at the MPD, but it ended up being with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. Still, from the start, she had a goal of working or volunteering for the Police Department, she said.
When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree and went looking for work, she saw an opening at MPD for a police assistant. A PA performs a variety of administrative and relatively minor enforcement duties, including parking enforcement, animal control assistant, fingerprint clerk and permit clerk.
“It was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door,” Espinoza said of the PA position. So she applied, took and passed the exam and held that job for about six months, when she then became a records clerk. Espinoza worked the clerk position for about five months, then was promoted to community service officer.
She’s still being trained in the job, and on Tuesday was supervised by CSO Nichelle Buck as she pulled fingerprints from a burglary at an optometry office. “We go to residential burglaries, commercial burglaries, we do a lot of vehicle burglaries as well, and stolen vehicle recovery,” Espinoza said of her new position.
CSOs can work normal patrol, process evidence in the field, do crime scene photography — pretty much anything except a priority 1 or priority 2 call where there’s a threat of violence, Stanfield said.
Like Rodriguez, Espinoza said she sees a number of promotional opportunities in the Police Department, “exciting positions” where she can put her education to even further use. When the time is right and there’s an opening, she said she’d be interesting in becoming an ID technician. That position has similarities to CSO, including doing photography and lifting fingerprints, and seems a natural next step, she said.
Sharon Bear, the department’s public information officer, who has been both a CSO and ID tech, agreed. “It does utilize the basics of the CSO position, but the technical side is much greater and you become a latent print examiner, you’re a crime scene technician, you’re a forensic expert to the court,” Bear said. “That’s what our ID techs do, they respond to homicides, fatal traffic collisions. ... I guess it is kind of a destination position for CSOs because three of the four (ID techs) right now were CSOs previously.”
The public information officer
With their bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, employees like Rodriguez and Espinoza have been the exception, not the rule, at MPD, Stanfield and Bear said. But that may be changing.
“I think the younger generation is coming in more educated,” Bear said. “It’s becoming more and more common that our CSOs have bachelor’s degrees, and among those that don’t, some have gone back to school to get them to try to create more opportunities.”
Her own path, though, was much different than the criminal justice majors. Bear was a local automotive business owner when she decided she needed to do something different.
She learned of a CSO opening with the department, and it “seemed like such a solid job: government job, regular hours, steady paycheck, benefits, and in my hometown.” The job title alone — community service officer — appealed to her because from working as a waitress and business owner, she appreciated the importance of customer service.
“I thought community service sounded wonderful. ... I went on a ride-along and was sold,” Bear said. She reflected on the many experiences she had under the umbrella of the CSO job: missing-persons special assignment, crime scene team, patrol, telephone reporting, homicide unit CSO. “You get to try out different jobs while you’re in different positions here, and crime scene work really piqued my interest.”
She got her shot when a temporary ID tech job opened because one person had just retired and another was on medical leave. “What a learning curve that was,” Bear said, recalling a year in which she studied many hours on her own time and built her skills through “a lot of trial and error.” She went on to create the department’s CSI Camp for children.
For a little more than a year, Bear has been the department’s principal spokeswoman. She faces reporters’ cameras and microphones at crime and crash scenes, issues news releases, oversees the MPD’s social media and more. The job is challenging and, she admits, sometimes a little stressful, but she enjoys it.
“As PIO, I still do a lot of my stuff I did as an ID tech, because I still have one foot in the door. I need to stay relevant there.”
Beyer High grad Jared Halderman, 21, had his first day as a sworn Modesto Police Department officer on Feb 19. His first exposure to the department was as a member of its Explorer Post 219, which trains youth ages 16 to 21 in various aspects of law enforcement.
Explorers are volunteers who help with such events as National Night Out and Neighborhood Watch meetings. They frequently do traffic control for parades, car shows and street festivals.
The Explorers receive training on traffic stops, search and seizure, effective communication and the law enforcement code of ethics. It’s through ride-alongs with sworn officers that they learn the most about the job.
Halderman learned about Explorers from an officer acquaintance who’d been in the program. Once he was an Explorer himself, “it kind of took off from there,” and he knew he wanted to be an officer.
When he was old enough, he applied for a paid cadet job and was accepted. Explorers who become cadets tend to skyrocket through the police academy, Stanfield said, and Halderman was no exception. “They’re usually at top of the class because they understand the job, they’re driven, they know what’s at stake,” the lieutenant added. “When they’re put through field training, they excel there, too.”
Not that the best cop is the one who can scale a fence the fastest or drive a patrol car the best, Stanfield said. “Helping kids, being a positive role model is better than the part of the job that involves chasing and catching bad guys.”
The traits most valued by the department in its officers are a servant heart, a courageous spirit and relentless drive, said the lieutenant, who in his office has this message written on a whiteboard: “The standards we set today become yesterday’s traditions and tomorrow’s expectations.”
Halderman said the part of the job he’s looking forward to most is interacting and hopefully influencing youth. That includes “working with people still in high school who are figuring out what they want to do,” he said. “That’s how I was able to figure out what I wanted to so early on, was having somebody there for me to kind of help me, because i had so many different ideas.” He considered joining the military, or becoming a firefighter.
On what he’d tell a student considering a law enforcement career, Halderman said it’s important to do well in school, and to want to help people. “And keep a good, clean background,” he said. “There are some things people can look past in hiring, other things they can’t.”
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