Inside the Academy: Meet Tustin PD's recruits

By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher

What does it take to wear a badge?

The Tustin Police Department recently hired three recruits who are going to offer some insight to this question as they take on the grueling 26-week Orange County Sheriff’s Training Academy.

Ismael Aurelus, Leah Barrett and David Valencia will share the challenges and successes they face on the road to becoming sworn officers.

Before even making it to the academy, the recruits were vetted in a two-month process to determine whether they were cut out for the job.

Recruits must drag a 165-pound dummy as part of a physical agility test. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Recruits must drag a 165-pound dummy as part of a physical agility test. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Written exams, psychology assessments, polygraph tests, extensive backgrounds and oral board interviews are all part of the preliminary steps to get a prospective recruit hired.

They also completed a physical test, which included scaling a 6-foot-tall wood wall, running a 99-yard obstacle course, dragging a 165-pound dummy and sprinting 500 yards.

Officers who have passed the physical test will tell you, “It’s not that bad.”

It’s not easy, either.

There are plenty of law enforcement hopefuls who fail to meet the physical requirements to enter the academy.

Once recruits pass these requirements, they wait for the dreaded Day 1 of the Academy.

Civilians would call Academy Day 1 a day in which recruits get yelled at a lot and ordered to do a seemingly impossible number of pushups.

A 90-yard obstacle course is part of the physical agility test all recruits must complete. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

A 90-yard obstacle course is part of the physical agility test all recruits must complete. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

The Tustin recruits have been preparing.

For the last month, they’ve worked at the department and also enrolled in a pre-academy.

They’ve participated in ride-alongs, learned the ropes in the records department and worked on their physical fitness.

Over the next six months, the recruits will share their experiences with Behind the Badge OC and their thoughts will be published here.

Their journey begins Dec. 21.

Meet TPD’s recruits:

Ismael Aurelus 

Tustin PD recruit Ismael Aurelus. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Tustin PD recruit Ismael Aurelus. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

The Miami, Fla. native has always wanted to become a police officer.

After graduating from St. Thomas University with a degree in criminal justice, Aurelus joined the United States Navy.

He served four years as a logistics specialist stationed in San Diego.

“I’ve worked toward this my whole life,” he said of becoming a cop. “It’s taken me 10 years but I am just very blessed to be here. It feels like a dream for me.”

Aurelus, 28, said he is ready for the challenges he expects the Sheriff’s Training Academy to present and is eager to start patrolling Tustin.

“I am just ready to go,” he said. “I like that Tustin PD is involved in the community and I just want to give back.

“Community policing is a big deal with this department and I really like that.”

Leah Barrett

Tustin PD recruit Leah Barrett. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Tustin PD recruit Leah Barrett. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

As an athlete, Barrett was searching for a department that placed an emphasis on camaraderie and teamwork.

The 32-year-old said she found that at TPD.

“I like having that atmosphere around me,” she said. “It was something I looked forward to.

“Tustin put a lot of work into my background to make sure I was not only right for their department, but that I was right to become a police officer.”

The Maryland native is a former university soccer coach who eventually found her way into working as a college counselor mentoring students looking to carve a career path.

After moving to Australia in 2012, Barrett said she realized she was ready for a new career.

Law enforcement piqued her interest but she couldn’t serve abroad.

Now in California, Barrett — who has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and continues to play soccer — said she jumped at the opportunity to become an officer.

“I just thought, this was my chance to change what I’m doing,” she said. “I just want to get started and get a feel for what the academy is really like.

“Most people describe it as tough. I want to get in there to feel what that toughness is really like.”

David Valencia 

Tustin PD recruit David Valencia. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Tustin PD recruit David Valencia. Photo courtesy Tustin PD.

Orange County born and raised, Valencia said he hopes becoming an officer will send a strong message to others like him.

“I grew up in a tough environment — gangs, drugs and violence,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons I got into this is to show those kids growing up the same way that they don’t have to be what they see every day.”

“They don’t have to be a product of their environment.”

Valencia, 33 who is married with a daughter, said even during challenging times in his youth, he stayed focused on his goal.

“I made it out and I’m not what I saw every day,” he said. “I want to fight the good fight.”

Valencia worked in a variety of jobs before applying to be a police officer — from selling time shares to working in customer service.

He said he is ready for the next chapter in his life to start and he’s excited to be with Tustin PD, a department he described as family-oriented.

“This has been my dream my whole life and I want it to be a reality already,” he said. “I like the idea of walking through a station and knowing who is going to be by my side.

“I’m just anxious to get started.”