Samah Barakat celebrated her 40th birthday in the most unforgettable way – fulfilling her dream of becoming a police officer as a recruit in the Bakersfield Police Academy.
On that day there weren’t any banners or black helium balloons that read “Over the Hill.” If anything, having a milestone birthday while in the middle of accomplishing a dream made her feel anything was possible, no matter how many candles were on her birthday cake.
“I’ve wanted to be a police officer all of my life. I used to watch American television shows when I was a kid and I thought it be so cool to be a first responder,” she said. “I almost gave up on this dream, but I just couldn’t, it was always there … in the back of my head.”
Barakat has faced a number of obstacles since she moved to America from Syria in 2008. She was 24 years old at the time, and she wanted to become an American police officer. But the journey to become a United States citizen would be a long one, and for a young Barakat, the notion of being a rookie cop in her 40s seemed improbable.
So, she buried away the aspiration and worked as an Emergency Medical Technician and later as a paramedic. But in 2017 when Barakat got her Green Card, the first thing she thought was, “I could become a police officer now.”
The recruitment team at the Bakersfield Police Department is always looking for diverse candidates. Their goal is to have their officers reflect their community, which has been pivotal to policies changing internally – including visible tattoos, uniforms, and facial hair.
While the minimum age to apply for the Bakersfield Police Academy is 20 ½ years old, Bakersfield Recruitment Supervisor Lukious Sims said being an older officer isn’t a reason someone shouldn’t apply to become a Bakersfield Police Officer.
“The benefits of being young is your body will recover from the demands of the academy and we find younger people tend to clear a background easier because they live at home and don’t have a lot of work experience,” said Sims. “Sometimes older recruits have more in their background, but they have wisdom, they have life experience, and they’ve learned from their mistakes. That’s something I like to see. “
Detective Santos Luevano was 39 years old when he decided to join the Bakersfield Police Academy. He had worked for 18 years in the private sector as a sales rep and started to think about the next chapter in his life. He had heard about openings at the police department and even though he wondered if his age was a deterrent, he decided to apply.
What he found was a team of recruiters from Bakersfield who wanted him to succeed, and who helped guide him through the process.
Luevano has been with the department for 19 years now. He is a detective assigned to the Special Victims Unit and is the first to encourage recruits of all ages and backgrounds to take a chance on themselves.
“There are so many opportunities here for people. My main advice is not to sell yourself short. If there’s something out there that you want to do, then do it,” Luevano said.
For Barakat, becoming an American citizen and a Bakersfield police officer just a few days apart has proven to her that dreams do come true. She worked hard, she listened to that voice inside of her that kept whispering “But, what if?” and now at the age of 40, she’s thinking about what the next 20 years could bring.
“I would love to become a detective, but I don’t know if it will happen. But I’m happy to be here getting to live my dream,” Barakat said.