Police officers have to know how to talk to people.
That’s why, when you come to the front counter of the Anaheim Police Department, a friendly cadet will greet you and do their best to help solve your problem.
“Our motto here at the police department is, ‘world class customer service,’” said Officer Sarah Shirvany, the cadet program supervisor.
It’s the first stop in the program for Anaheim’s 40-some cadets, many of whom hope to become officers.
“I love everything about it,” said Cadet Kristina Marusic, who had also been an Anaheim Police Explorer. “I think the brains of the department is here up at the front counter… There’s a lot we get to learn up here.”
Once they’ve worked the front counter for about a year — where they help about 225 people a day — they can join other units, such as dispatch, administration, or forensics.
Cadet Brian Sanchez, 23, is currently working with the gang detail and hopes to find a career there.
“I don’t want my future kids to grow up around all of that,” Sanchez said. “I’m only one person, but if I take one bad guy off the streets and one piece of drug off the streets, its one less item to worry about.”
Sanchez has wanted to be a police officer since he was a child. He remembers playing cops and robbers with his sister (he was never the robber).
“I just want to make sure that all the bad guys, including gangsters, get off the streets,” Sanchez said.
The cadets, all of whom are 18 or older and full-time college students, work about 30 hours a week or more at the Anaheim PD, with much of that time spent taking reports for incidents ranging from a traffic collision to financial crime to assault with a deadly weapon.
“One thing unique about Anaheim’s cadet program over any other cadet program in Orange County is we allow our cadets to take pretty extensive criminal reports,” Shirvany said. “We teach them how to deal with people’s problems.”
The cadets are given a lot of responsibility. In addition to taking reports and helping residents, they have an opportunity to make an impact on the department. For example, Cadet Jillian Melendez, who worked as an administrative cadet, created templates that cadets now use at the counter to ensure they ask all the necessary questions to complete reports. Before Melendez created the templates, cadets had to remember the questions for each kind of incident.
“The work you do is really driven to our future goal of being in law enforcement here,” said Cadet Matthew Bevins, 20.
The cadets learn from the officers, but they also learn from each other. Each new cadet trains for four months with a senior cadet, and all cadets attend monthly training days with officers from different units so they get a taste of all the opportunities at Anaheim PD.
“When people want to enter this line of work, they really need to know what they’re getting themselves into and the dedication it takes to do this job,” Shirvany said.
The job can be stressful — cadets help everyone who comes to the front desk from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. No one comes to the police station when things are fine, so the cadets have to be prepared to handle people in all emotional states. To help them deal with the tensions of the day, the department teaches the importance of self-care.
“I just always try and remember that they still are a human being,” said Cadet Jillian Hernandez, who was inspired by her brother, David, now an officer with Orange PD. “We don’t know what’s going on on the other side of the glass… You never know, our encounter with them could change their opinion of law enforcement.”
Once, a man with blood on his white shirt came to the front counter. He was slurring his words, sweating, and visibly scared, said Cadet Omar Perez, 20. The man had been in a car accident.
Perez remained calm.
“I can’t freak out in front of him because he’s already freaked out,” Perez said. “I want him to feel like he’s at the right place and we’re going to do everything we can to help him out.”
The cadets have big hearts — they’ve pooled funds to buy gift cards for a homeless family, and once bought a new bike for a boy whose bike had been stolen.
That boy might be inspired to become an officer one day — like Perez, whose bike was stolen when he was about 12 years old. The Santa Ana police were so friendly and helpful that Perez chose a career in law enforcement so he can impact people the same way.
“Police work isn’t just about the excitement of going code 3 or getting in a pursuit,” Shirvany said. “The excitement of the job, to me, is really making a difference for somebody. When they feel proud that they helped somebody and made a difference you can see it.”