Air Force veteran Dustin Espinoza, who grew up in a rough neighborhood not far from Crows Landing Road, understood what Sanger Police Chief Silver Rodríguez spoke about at the Dec. 11 graduation for the Fresno City College Police Academy.
“It’s getting harder and harder to be a police officer,” said Rodríguez, who began his career with the Porterville police in 1978. “Parts of the reason is that some criminals are becoming more violent and brazen; and, our actions continue to be intensely scrutinized, especially after every YouTube video that’s posted.”
The 27-year-old Espinoza, who graduated earlier this year from St. Mary’s College with a degree in economics, thought Rodríguez’s speech “was interesting.”
He was hired by the Modesto Police Department.
“We need a lot of work to gain the trust of the community back,” said Espinoza, the oldest of two sons. “Modesto has done a really good job doing that, and that’s what drove me to Modesto. They are really focused on community policing.”
Espinoza, who graduated from Ceres High School in 2008, moved to Fresno to take part in the academy. He was already on the Modesto police payroll.
He was among 41 graduates of the academy’s 148th class who took part in the 3-hour ceremony in the FCC Old Administrative Building auditorium.
Espinoza, one of 36 cadets who had a job lined up, spoke from childhood experience about his desire to become a police officer.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff growing up that I’d like to motivate kids,” said Espinoza. “I want to show those kids in my situation that they don’t have to go down paths I’ve seen my friends go.”
Espinoza – whose parents, younger brother, girlfriend and other family members were among the estimated 535 who packed into the auditorium – said he wants to work with children as a police officer.
“If they see a friendly face, they’ll understand that cops are here to help you,” said Espinoza. “There’s a lot we can do than just arrests.”
Espinoza went to college after six years in the Air Force as a backup.
“You never know. Law enforcement is a 30-year career and things can happen,” he said. “I think my mom (Ramona Espinoza) kind of had an influence in me having a backup.”
His mother, he said, never tried to talk him out of police work.
“She’s a little over-protective like most Mexican mothers, but she’s never tried to talk me out of it,” said Espinoza. “She’s always supported me.”
Espinoza took part in cross country, track, wrestling and football in high school. He admits he was “timid and shy” in those years. “I didn’t really come out of my shell until after three years in the Air Force.”
Rodríguez didn’t spell total gloom and doom for the cadets.
“Talking about the challengers that face law enforcement, it sounds like I’m painting a bleak picture of the profession,” said Rodríguez. “To the contrary. It’s an exciting time to be a police officer.”
Rodríguez said the police “still enjoy quite a bit of trust, respect and confidence from the people in our community.”
“Your goal is to leave the law enforcement profession just a little better than the way you found it,” he concluded in his 10-minute speech.
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