Police academy graduates realize their dreams of going into law enforcement

State Center Police Academy graduates Amy Mercer and Juliza Mondragón-Díaz joined the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.
State Center Police Academy graduates Amy Mercer and Juliza Mondragón-Díaz joined the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.

Juliza Mondragón-Díaz, who grew up in a Madera neighborhood where gangs and crime were all too common, believes she can make a difference at a time when law enforcement is getting a black eye on social media.

“Now, there is a lot of negativity, especially on social media, from minorities,” said the 22-year-old Mondragón-Díaz after graduating from the State Center Police Academy on Aug. 23.

The Fresno State and Madera High graduate who was just hired by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office believes being a Latina and engaging with that community can make a difference.

“Being a minority coming into this job, which bumps heads a lot in my community, especially low-income and high-crime areas, I know there is still trust and communication that can be managed with the community,” said Mondragón-Díaz, who grew up wanting to go into law enforcement.

At about the same time that Mondragón-Díaz was developing an interest in law enforcement, Uriel Mejía-Álvarez was doing the same. Both are 22 years of age.

Fresno County Assistant Sheriff John Zanoni congratulates the 13 new additions to his department during the State Center Police Academy graduation on Aug. 23. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

“In second or third grade we were writing out what you want to do in life,” said Mejía-Álvarez, who also joined the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. “Some kids wanted to be astronauts, some wanted to be doctors. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer.”

Mondragón-Díaz joined a criminal justice class at Madera High, which eventually led to her joining the Fresno County Sheriff’s Explorers Program.

Mejía-Álvarez joined the 1-0-8 program at Fresno State, which allowed him to ride alongside a full-time deputy sheriff “and interact with the public.”

Both earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Fresno State.

Mondragón-Díaz said her parents, Auricela Díaz and Juvenil Mondragón, were hesitant at first about her career choice.

“They were really scared for me, coming in as a woman from the Latino/Hispanic community,” she said. “At the same time, they knew that I had that passion, that eagerness to do whatever I put my mind to. They are supportive.”

Mondragón-Díaz and Mejía-Álvarez were among 27 cadets who took part in the graduation ceremony in the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. At least a dozen of the graduates were Latino.

State Center Police Academy graduate Uriel Mejía-Álvarez gets pinned with his Fresno County Sheriff's Department badge by his father, Hilario, while his mother, Lourdes, watches. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Eighteen of the cadets were sworn in by their respective law enforcement agency, of which 13 were hired by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Other hires were made by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, the Merced Police Department and the Dos Palos Police Department.

Academy director Gary Fief said other cadets were waiting for background checks before their hiring could proceed.

Fresno County Assistant Sheriff John Zanoni, the keynote speaker, stressed the difficulties of being in law enforcement today.

“Law enforcement in 2019 is one of the most demanding and challenging careers,” he said. “You face the demands of being tasked to do more with less, and you are also held to high standards from the community you serve and the media.

“How often do you see a news release with people questioning or challenging the actions of law enforcement officers? The answer is: It happens every day thanks to video cameras, phones, tablets, dash cams and body cameras.

“There is no lack of video evidence for people to use and publish to question and judge our every move.”

Zanoni said that despite that increased attention, law enforcement remains a rewarding career.

“In this profession you will have the ability to help people solve everyday problems, you will save lives and you will ensure that those who follow and respect the law are protected from those criminals who do not,” said Zanoni.