Erica Maitland celebrated a landmark birthday last week.
But turning 30 didn’t compare with what happened two days later:
On Aug. 15, Maitland was sworn in as the Beverly Hills PD’s newest police officer after graduating with 52 other members of Basic Academy Class 236 at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
“This was my birthday gift to myself,” an emotional Maitland said.
The Los Angeles native served as a dispatcher for the BHPD for more than seven years before she decided to make the decision to become a sworn officer.
A couple of months before the academy began in early March, Maitland’s step-father, Joseph, who largely raised her and her siblings with Maitland’s mother, Chantell Gibson, died of an illness.
He was 40, and his death was a severe blow to Maitland.
Still grieving, Maitland had to suck it up to get through the rigors of the OCSD academy, which is considered one of the toughest high-stress academies in the nation.
But she persevered, and her never-give-up attitude echoes the slogan Basic Academy Class 236 officially adopted as its own:
We fight as one, we overcome
Maitland always figured on a career as a cop or a crime scene investigator.
Growing up and seeing sad crime stories on the news, she developed a soft spot for some of society’s most vulnerable.
“Nothing upset me more than hearing about elderly people and children being victimized,” Maitland said. “That just didn’t sit right with me. I grew up wanting to give back to the community.”
Maitland attended Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and earned a biology degree from The Masters University, a conservative Christian liberal arts college in Santa Clarita.
She chose biology because she thought it would be good for CSI work.
But Maitland followed the lead of her step-father, who worked as a dispatcher for the LAPD, and got into that line of work after working for a year for a company that helps elderly and disabled people in their homes.
The BHPD hired her as a dispatcher in 2011.
“I loved being the initial link to the public,” Maitland says. “Residents depend on me and my decision-making, and I have to come up with solutions on my own. I built a lot of friendships here, and being a dispatcher gave me a real solid foundation to become a cop.”
Maitland said it was challenging going from a civilian mentality to an officer mentality during the six-month academy.
“It was hard, but doable,” she said. “During the physical part, I learned that I have a lot more fight in me than I believe I had.”
Basic Academy Class 236 President Jordan Dorrance, a Santa Monica Police Department recruit, spoke at the Aug. 15 graduation.
“This academy tested us mentally and physically,” Dorrance said. “It pushed each of us to our limits and then beyond that limit. From day one, we have been expected to give everything, all while performing under intense pressure.”
Academy training focused on force-on-force, less-lethal and non-lethal force options, emergency driver training, search techniques, firearms training, investigations and more.
Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg was the keynote speaker at the graduation.
“In my opinion, law enforcement is the most honorable profession on the planet, and you guys should be proud of what you’ve accomplished already,” Greenberg told the graduates. “You join a law enforcement family, and that law enforcement family runs throughout this room, throughout the county, throughout the state, and throughout the nation.”
Greenberg pointed out the current challenges faced by law enforcement officers, including the drug epidemic, the homeless and mental health crisis, along with more intense scrutiny by the public and the media than ever before.
“Today’s cops need to be lawyers, mental health workers, domestic counselors, drug and alcohol abuse counselors, and mental professionals,” Greenberg said. “We need to be trained in advance tactics, de-escalation techniques, crisis negotiation, peer support, and the list goes on and on.”
The chief discussed the dangers of the profession and mentioned the recent shooting death of CHP Officer Andre Moye Jr. and the wounding of six police officers in Philadelphia.
He talked about new laws that seem to favor criminals over citizens and the police.
But there’s a huge upside to the career, Greenberg said.
“We work in a profession that is exciting and fulfilling,” Greenberg said. “We get to help people in their time of need. Occasionally, we get to save lives.”
After the graduation ceremony, BHPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli congratulated Maitland and watched Gibson pin a badge on her.
“This still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Maitland said.
Said Gibson: “I’m very proud of my baby girl.”
Gibson acknowledged the dangers of being a police officer.
“I think I would rather see her serving the community,” she said, “and if she puts her life on the line saving others, that’s better than her going out (and doing another job). Every job can be a risky job.”
Maitland said one of her goals at the BHPD is to become an FTO (field training officer). She is one of 18 female sworn officers out of 134. The BHPD is authorized for 145 sworn positions, Spagnoli said.
“It’s a prestigious agency,” Maitland said of the BHPD. “We’re very tight. Everyone knows everyone. And the community really supports us.”