Becoming the Badge: 'No one is Safe'

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It’s a somber week at the El Paso Police Academy as recruits honor fallen heroes and have to say goodbye to some of their classmates.

Monday at the academy, the flag flies at half-staff as our country remembers the fateful morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

“That specific event is what caused me to deploy multiple times to dangerous areas,” said recruit Damian George.

“A lot of great Americans lost their lives that day,” said recruit Anthony Greer.

On this Monday afternoon, recruits are dedicating a grueling workout to those who died -- especially the fallen heroes.

“Something pushed me a lot more than normal,” said recruit Samuel Quattlebaum.

The workout included:

-373 jumping jacks for the FDNY firefighters killed.

-33 pullups for the NYPD officers who lost their lives.

-37 burpees for the NY Port Authority officers killed.

-110 tire step-ups for each flight of stairs responders went up in the towers.

“You got to push through this will workout. Gotta keep going for them,” said recruit Vanessa Bermudez.

These future first responders felt connected to those who woke up

and went to work not knowing it would be their last day.

“It makes me push harder. You feel it in your heart. You feel> in your mind,” said George.

Those heroes who selflessly went into the towers, giving their lives, so that others may live.

“Give it your all, because they gave it theirs. They didn't know what was going to happen to them that day,” said Greer.

Now, almost halfway through the academy, the staff is unwilling to waiver on the high standards they’ve set forth.

“I don’t see it in some of these people,” said training instructor, Officer Ersi Madrid.

This academy aims to make a small dent in the department’s dire need for more officers.

“We needed better response times; we needed better coverage,” Chief Greg Allen told KFOX14Investigates in 2016.

“When I was out on the streets, I got to see the numbers that we don't have out there. Guys were going call to call to call -- it's a marathon run,” said lead training instructor, Sgt. Jeremy Ontiveros.

“As a detective it was like, ‘Hey, you may have to work patrol today,’” said instructor Detective Candace Pacheco about the shortage.

Right now, there are a little more than 1,000 officers to patrol the city.

Which is far below the need.

“With El Paso’s growth I’d say 1,700. I’ve asked for a conservative 300,” said Allen.

Despite the critical shortage, they’re not settling.

“This academy is to give the City of El Paso outstanding officers,” said Greer.

It’s not just about the number of badges, but the character of the officer who wears it.

“You will earn this badge. We won’t lower our standards,” said Detective Alex Dominguez, another instructor.

“We have to earn them,” said Bermudez.

“You can only get so many infractions before you're recommended for termination,” said Ontiveros.

Monday's workout would be the last for former nurse and mom of six Sarah Tew and former custodian and father of two Jesus Lucero.

The shakeup changed the class dynamic.

Putting out good police officers is personal for academy instructors.

“I have a responsibility to the patrol officers that are already out there. I have a responsibility to give them quality officers as far as their backup goes,” said Pacheco. “My husband is still out there.”

“I think as an instructor, I’m obligated to the officers they are going to be sitting next to,” said instructor Officer Joe Lopez.

The department won't compromise quality for quantity.

“Nobody up here is willing to sacrifice quality of training,” said Lopez.

After the departure of two recruits, Chief Allen spoke to the class to make sure they know, those badges won't be handed out and they don’t come easy.

“It made my hair stand up. It gives me the motivation, just hearing his speech it gives me the drive to keep going. I am going to earn the badge and I’m going to do what I have to, to protect this badge and help the citizens of El Paso,” said Greer.

Even though the force needs the bodies, the badge can't belong to just anybody.

“They will never be desperate enough,” said Soto.

Inside the recruits' classroom is a memorial wall with the names and faces of El Paso officers killed in the line of duty.

It serves as a daily reminder of the dangers and risks they'll face in the streets.

“(Chief Allen) doesn't want any more names added to the memorial wall, that’s what I took it as,” said Soto. “So put in that work, to keep your partner alive.”

It’s also a reminder of why the standards for police work can never change. Because like the heroes they honored Monday, when you walk out the door in the morning, there's no guarantee you'll make it home.

“Three months into (the academy) nobody is safe. If you don't meet the standards, we get terminated. Period,” said George.

Next week we'll take you back up to the mountain for the rest of week 13 as the remaining 64 recruits dig into investigations and interrogations and start setting career goals.

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