GWC Police Academy Graduation

Chief urges 35 new GWC police recruits to protect their character and do the right thing

by Joe Vargas,
Behind the Badge OC

On Friday, March 17, 35 police recruits graduated from the Golden West Criminal Justice Training Center.

Eric Velazquez

Class President Eric Velazquez, the oldest recruit in the graduating class at 39 years, gave the class president’s address. He eloquently and with humor spoke on behalf of Class 153.

“Some people made the typical assumptions about my midlife crisis but I told them if that were the case that I would have gone skydiving or at least (bought) a Range Rover,” he said. “But no, I decided to subject myself to six months of dry turkey sandwiches and getting yelled at by people who were mostly younger than me.”

Velazquez further added as he looked over his classmates, “In a time when many have chosen to stand against the police, these men and women have chosen to stand in solidarity with them, not only in thought but in service.”

That was to be a reoccurring theme among speakers.

It’s a challenging time to be a police officer. But there are still men and women who are willing to take up the challenge.

Keynote speaker Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela said: “Too often, especially lately, some in our society are openly vocal about their criticisms of law enforcement. Often judgment is passed on officers before facts are known and without considerations for the difficulties and complexities of what we are asked to do.”

“Your reputation is just what people think of you. Your character is who you really are so protect it all costs by doing the right thing.”

“You will not always be appreciated to the degree you think appropriate, you will not always be respected like you deserve. You will be required to work when you’re exhausted. You will not always get the assignment or promotion when you want it. You’ll be asked to do things that are unpleasant. You’ll be forced to make hard choices. You’ll be expected to do the right thing when it’s difficult. You’ll see things that others never want to see. You’ll experience things that will break your heart. In all of this you’ll always be expected to be a better person, to keep your head up and continuously push forward and stay the course.”

I couldn’t disagree with Chief Kisela’s assessment of expectations. It makes you wonder why people continue to seek out law enforcement as a career. In a 2015 survey by Calibre Press, 81 percent of nearly 3,500 officers surveyed were not encouraging their children to enter the profession of law enforcement. Yet in Class 153 were a handful of recruits whose relatives were in law enforcement.

My nephew, Matt Vargas from the Anaheim Police Department, was one of them. His father, Phil Vargas, is a robbery detective for the Anaheim PD. His grandfather, Jose Vargas, retired from the Santa Ana PD. I retired from the Anaheim Police Department in 2010.

I asked his dad after the ceremony how much encouragement he gave his son to become a police officer. His response was: “None. He did it all on his own. I just told him whatever he decided I would support him and to give 110 percent effort.”

I’m sure my father, Jose Vargas, is looking down and very proud at this third-generation police officer.

I spoke with the parents of Ashley Hunter. Jan and Jerry Hunter are both retired law enforcement officers. Jan was a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Jerry retired as the assistant chief of the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

The Hunter’s extended family is filled with both current and retired law enforcement officers. Ashley also would be a third-generation police officer.

I asked Jan the question, “Did you encourage Ashley to become a police officer?” Jan’s response was quick.

“No, I didn’t. She was going to go into the medical profession but as time went on she seemed to be determined to become a police officer. With all the violence and public attitudes against the police I just didn’t think this was a good time.”

I spoke with Jerry Hunter, who also said he didn’t encourage Ashley.

“She decided on her own this was she wanted to do,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything I could do to stop her.”

Velazquez is the son-in-law of retired Capt. Steve Ames of the Orange Police Department.

I asked him if he encouraged Eric to become a police officer. His response was unequivocal.

“I absolutely did,” Ames said.

He clarified it by adding: “For some of us in law enforcement this isn’t just a job. It’s a calling. People who enter it feel they are led there. There are not many jobs out there where you can look in the mirror and you can be proud of what you do.”

The children of cops become cops because they know what real cops are like. They are men and women who love what they do, fulfilled by their work and most of all, real people making a difference. They, more than anyone else, know who cops really are and therefore are in a better position to follow the examples their families have modeled for them.

So it is with all the recruits who graduated. They are entering a profession that is both satisfying and rewarding. As Chief Kisela noted, it’s not without its challenges but in the end, it is a great career choice.


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