Fresh Faces: New police officers must learn ropes

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis Police Officer Johnny Zamora uses his computer and radio Thursday to search for information.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis Police Department has had an infusion of youth with the hiring of eight officers 24 and younger, three of whom are attending the police academy.

New officers are sent to the Southeastern New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in Hobbs for 5 1/2 months and complete three months under supervision of a field training officer. They face challenges on the job as they develop knowledge and experience in their field, Capt. Patrick Whitney said.

Placing new officers under supervision and having an 18-month probation are steps taken to help them transition into their responsibilities.

“A (newer) officer may have to call somebody or have a more difficult time making a decision because they don’t have the experience,” Whitney said.

“There’s such a learning curve as far as dealing with certain situations. It takes years (to develop experience). … Bottom line, there’s definitely an experience issue there with them not having street experience.”

Young, new officers can face additional challenges because of their age, Whitney said.

Over time, officers develop street credit while performing their duties. They have proven their capabilities, and people who frequently encounter them come to know and respect their authority, Whitney said.

“The younger they are, the more chance that career criminals will challenge them.”

Bringing young officers on board, especially those who grew up in Clovis, can also have benefits, Whitney said. They can relate to younger people, know their way around the community and may already have a rapport with people on the streets, he said.

Three of the department’s youngest officers answered questions from the CNJ about themselves and their new careers.

Officer Sean Martinez
A Clovis High School graduate, 24-year-old Martinez focuses on his family and church when not on duty. The father of two said playing with his children and working in youth ministry at Highland Baptist Church are at the top of his list of things to do.

Deciding to become a police officer in the first grade, Martinez said he chose to work in Clovis because it is home to him. Only two months into the job, Martinez is working under supervision of a field training officer and slated to go to the academy this summer.

Martinez’ favorite cereal is Cocoa Pebbles, and favorite candy Hot Tamales. He doesn’t watch much TV, just the news, and he loves Christian music.

Q: What do your family members think of your chosen career?
A: They support me and pray for me.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your new career?
A: Physical training.

Q: Your superiors have no doubt given you a lot of advice. What is a piece of advice you could give them?
A: Love your job — get excited about it.

Q: How does it feel to patrol your old stomping ground?
A: It feels good. I’m helping the people and showing them that nothing is impossible.

Q: Name your No. 1 inspiration in life:
A: God and Christ – I trust him in all that I do.

Q: Best moment on the job:
A: (Being) en route to a call.

Q: One thing you can’t wait to do on the job:
A: Become certified.

Q: A book or movie you would recommend:
A: Ephesians, the Bible and “The Passion of the Christ.”

Officer Brent Aguilar
At 22, Aguilar is a year into his job. The Clovis native, engaged to be married in September, likes to hunt, play golf, lift weights and play video games, and has a bulldog named Butkus. Aguilar said he relies on close family relationships to help him deal with the stresses of his new job.

He knew he wanted to be a police officer the first time he saw his father in uniform at age 6 and chose Clovis as the place to fulfill his goals because it is big enough to provide plenty of excitement but not so big an officer would get lost in a large department. Having grown up in Clovis and returning to serve as a police officer gives him a sense of pride, he said.

His best moment on the job was being there when an infant kidnapped from a Lubbock hospital was found in Clovis. Seeing firsthand the damage a tornado can do goes down as his most surprising experience on duty.

Aguilar said the Eagles are the best band of all time. He watches “Cold Case Files” and “Forensic Files” and said he loves Honey Bunches of Oats and Lucky Charms cereals and Hot Tamales candies.

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced in starting your new career?
A: Keeping up with the speed of the job. There’s always a deadline on completing tasks, or you have court, or there are follow-ups to complete. Sometimes you feel like you are never finished with the job — you never really are.

Q: What is it like as a young person working with other officers who have years of experience over you?
A: As a young officer, working with older officers can be intimidating. At Clovis PD it’s comforting knowing the older officers I work with don’t hesitate to answer questions I might have. As a young officer you can count on asking many questions.

Q: Your superiors have no doubt given you a lot of advice. What is a piece of advice you could give them?
A: Being a young officer makes it easier for me to empathize with the younger people we come in contact with. If I could give older officers a piece of advice, it would be, “Patience is important when dealing with younger people.”

Q: Name your No. 1 inspiration in life:
A: My dad is my No. 1 inspiration. He raised me to do everything 110 percent. My dad instilled in me respect for others, honesty and integrity. The things I have learned from my dad go with me to every call and are incorporated into every aspect of my life off-duty.

Q: What is the biggest change you had to make in your life to accommodate your new career?
A: My fiancée stayed in Nebraska to finish college while I started my career. We have been apart for a little more than a year. Being away from each other does get stressful from time to time.

Q: Have things changed with your friends now that you are a police officer? Do they act differently around you?
A: No. The friends I have outside the police department give me the same respect and the same treatment they gave me before I was a police officer. Many of my friends show more interest in police work now that I’m a police officer.

Q: A movie you would recommend:
A: “Super Troopers” — You have to laugh in this job; this movie helps accomplish that.

Q: What animal best represents you and why?
A: I’ve been told I represent a bulldog. I was given the nickname “bulldog” in high school by football teammates because of my short, stocky stature and my stubborn attitude. I still carry that nickname today.

Officer Johnny Zamora
Raised in Brownfield, Texas, 24-year-old Zamora came to Clovis with the Air Force and decided to make it home at the end of his enlistment because he liked the community. One year into his job, Zamora said he chose police work in his teens because he wanted a career he could be proud of and wanted to make a difference.

The biggest challenge he discovered in starting his new career was stepping outside his comfort zone long enough to give himself the chance to learn, he said. Zamora likes to watch law shows on TV to see the differences between reality and what is portrayed on the screen. He said his favorite cereal is Frosted Flakes. His favorite candy: Snickers.

Q: What do your family members think of your chosen career?
A: They are proud of me, but they also worry.

Q: What is it like as a young person working with officers who have years of experience over you?
A: It is a positive experience. They give you the knowledge to assist you in a greater career. The more experienced guys here are willing to talk with the newer officers, which makes you feel like you have been around just as long.

Q: What things have changed with your friends now that you are a police officer?
A: They have not changed; (they) just question why I made this choice.

Q: What is the biggest change you have had to make in your life to accommodate your career?
A: I have had to adjust to being in one place. I have to admit it was nerve wracking at first, but now I enjoy being in one place and not having to be ready for another move.

Q: Name your No. 1 inspiration in life:
A: My father is my inspiration. He would always support my decisions in my life. He would also give me the ability to learn from my mistakes.

Q: Best moment on the job:
A: Helping those in need after the tornado.

Q: The most surprising experience you have had on the job so far:
A: Having someone run from you when you just stop to talk to them just to see how they are.

Q: One thing you can’t wait to do on the job:
A: Get more experience and knowledge to help the officers that come after me.

Q: A movie you would recommend:
A: “Freedom Writers.”

Clovis Police Department by the numbers:
18
Officers at the department, or 30 percent, having experience with other police departments

21
Age of the youngest officer, Kyle Grimsley, hired Nov. 6

27
Average age of officers in their first year

37
Average age of officers

57
Commissioned police officers

$2,440
Approximate cost to send an officer to the police academy