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Becoming the Badge: Breaking Points

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It’s week seven at the El Paso Police Academy and the recruits are starting to feel the emotional toll.

This week, El Paso police recruits are learning about one of the most frequent crimes in the city and what their role will be in protecting victims.

But several of the recruits are also feeling pressure and facing setbacks.

Company commander Damian George is trying to keep the 122nd class in line.

“I tell them they need to put up or shut up,” said George.

The remaining 66 recruits are tired of being punished when one recruit messes up.

“If they don't come in the right uniform, we pay for it. We all pay for it. If they don't come with the proper materials, do what they are supposed to do, we all pay for it,” said George.

For recruit Sarah Tew, the switch from her life as a nurse to that of a police recruit has been a rough transition.

“I'm struggling. I'm honestly struggling,” said Tew.

She says this week's course has renewed her desire to become an officer, to protect people.

“I have a role to play,” said Tew.

Recruits took an in-depth look at family and domestic violence and how to handle those types of calls.

“They are one of the most frequent calls that you're going to be dispatched to,” said Sgt. Jeremey Ontiveros, who oversees the recruits' training academy.

In 2016, El Paso police responded to almost 32,000 family violence and domestic violence calls.

That's more than 87 calls a day, or 3.5 calls an hour.

“There’s a lot of passion, a lot of heated passion,” said Ontiveros.

For 30-year-old recruit Anthony Greer, this week was personal.

“When I grew up, my mom was abused physically when we were kids,” said Greer.

This week has been emotional for him.

“It's painful. It's very painful” said Greer.

He is starting to see the difference he'll be able to make for others once he wears the badge.

“Now it’s my turn to protect these individuals, when I do become a peace officer,” said Greer.

“I really took this week. I took it in. It's near and dear to my heart. I do have a sister, a wife and a daughter,” said Greer.

Part of responding to family and domestic violence calls is showing people the resources available to them.

“Just make it known that you are there to help them,” said recruit Vanessa Bermudez.

Vanessa Bermudez has family on the force.

She's wanted to be a police officer since she took part in the Police Explorers program, but an ankle injury has kept her on the sidelines for weeks.

“You feel left out. You see everyone working as a team and you just have to be on the sidelines,” said Bermudez.

Her injury appears to be a hairline fracture.

She has a magnetic resonance imaging scan scheduled and the results will determine if she can stay or whether she’ll have to wait for the next academy.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t get to that point,” she said.

Former custodian Jose Lucero is also feeling uncertain about his place in the academy.

“I need to get better in a lot of ways,” he said.

Lucero passed his quarterly test but he's still struggling academically.

“I’m young and going home to a 6-month-old and a 4-year-old. It's hard to find time,” he said.

Lucero has a degree in criminal justice, but he also has test anxiety.

“I tend to get nervous when I take a test. I know the topic. I know the answer,” said Lucero.

Now, Lucero said, he's pushing himself -- working out when he gets home, studying with his wife and going to tutoring.

“I hope this is the right career for me and I want to stay here. Academically, I don’t know if I’m there,” said Lucero.

He knows leaving the academy would have a major impact on his family and future.

“If we lose this job, if we lose this income, it's going to be a struggle. I'm not thinking about that right now, just taking it a week at a time,” said Lucero.

Becoming an officer isn't just a change for the recruits.

It’s a change for their families too.

“We told them they were going to see changes. Their families were going to see changes,” said Ontiveros.

Last week, the academy lost a recruit because of the impact the training was having on her family.

The change is real for Tew, who has three young children at home and three stepchildren.

“They just miss me as me. They saw a lot of changes in me” she said.

“This job will change you, as far as your thought process,” said Ontiveros.

That's something many recruits don't realize when they sign up.

“I'm not that sweet mom that I used to be. I have limitations and I put some boundaries between my kids and I. I need to be tough emotionally,” said Tew.

Next week, team building will take on a whole new meaning for the recruits as they close out their second month at the academy.

That's next Sunday night on Becoming the Badge.

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