Becoming the Badge: A Female Force
For week 15, Becoming the Badge is focusing on the female side to the force.
Eleven female recruits were part of the original class of 76 at the El Paso Police Academy,
Now the women are down to an elite eight who are proving they’ve got what it takes to hold their own in a male-dominated field.
On the force, females can be hard to find. Women officers make up just 11 percent of the El Paso Police Department.
“To be in the same group as some of these women, it’s an honor,” instructor Det. Candace Pacheco said.
Two fearless females lead at the academy, Pacheco an 11-year-veteran, is one.
She followed in her father’s footsteps.
“My father was a police officer for 21 years,” Pacheco said. “That was the most interesting part of my day, hearing about what he did in his day."
During her time at the west side tactical unit, Pacheco was the only female.
Four-year veteran Officer Ersi Madrid is the other female instructor. Madri joined the army at 18.
“I did three deployments. I did different operations in the Middle East,” Madrid said.
A native of San Diego, she joined the police department after more than 10 years in the army
“When I was little I saw my dad in the military. It was something I wanted to do. Same with a police officer, I saw them in the streets, and then I wanted to do it,” Madrid said.
Both admit they're harder on the female recruits.
“I expect more from my females. I do,” Madrid said.
“You want to put out strong females that are going to go out there and show what they can do, what outstanding officers they can be,” Pacheco said.
They hold their female recruits to a higher standard because they want to prepare them for the streets.
“They know what I expect from them, they know what’s expected of them, what they are going to face out there in the streets,” Madrid said.
“They've displayed the drive to want to be here. We’ve thrown the worst we have at them and they’ve kept going. I think we will get good officers out of the ones we have now,” Pacheco said.
The tight-knit group of future female officers includes 23-year-old Sabrina Gonzalez, who, like Pacheco, is following in her father’s footsteps as an El Paso Police Officer.
“I would see him come back home from a job he loved for 22 years,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez played soccer and graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio before coming home to join the department.
“It’s a career that’s very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging and I love being tested in that way,” Gonzalez said.
Twenty-four-year-old Stephanie Rey graduated from UTEP with a degree in criminal justice.
“I don’t think a lot of people would look at me and think, ‘She’s going to be a cop,’” Rey said.
A native of northeast El Paso, Rey has found a passion for law enforcement.
“The thing about police work here, is it's within your city your community. That’s what I liked. I like being here being able to be here help out here, if I could, when I could,” said Rey.
She’s one of the smallest recruits.
“I know I’m small, I know I’m a female, but it’s not going to stop me,” said Rey.
But its not the size that matters.
“Its all mental and heart,” Madrid said.
All of the recruits are held to the same standard.
“Men and women are not built the same, but in this job you have to be able to do what a man can do,” Pacheco said.
“A call is a call,” Gonzalez said.
“You have to be able to handle yourself, and you have to be able to go home at the end of your shift,” Pacheco said.
Day in and day out, they prove they can handle themselves.
“You have a partner next to you that can carry their own,” Gonzalez said.
“I would like (the male recruits) to be like, ‘She’s good. She can handle herself,’” Rey said.
The female recruits are learning to have a commanding presence and to find their voice.
“When I first got here I was quiet. I’m learning how to project,” Rey said.
“Yes, I’m five foot nothing, but you are going to listen to me,” Pacheco said.
They're also prepared to be sized up in the streets.
“Everyone is going to underestimate you right away because you’re a female,” Pacheco said.
“I love to be underestimated because I like to prove them wrong. I guess that’s just the animal in me,” Gonzalez said.
But there are areas where female officers may have an advantage. Especially in cases involving children, sexual assault victims or domestic violence victims.
“That female isn’t so comfortable talking to a male about what just happened to her,” Madrid said.
“I think a lot of female offices shine in that way,” Pacheco said.
These future officers are determined to show young girls badges aren’t just for boys.
“Prove to other women that you are good enough, and you can do a career like this as good as the men, if not better,” Gonzalez said.
“If we are doing it, you can do it too,” Rey said.
The reason there is no female- or male-specific standards at the academy is because in the streets, they'll all go by the same title: Officer.
Next week on Becoming the Badge, recruits try their hand at directing traffic. They take on traffic laws, ticket-writing and making the roadways safe.