Cadets at the Anaheim PD do it all, from taking reports from the public at the front counter to assisting officers and professional staff members in the forensics, personnel, homicide, and other units.
All of these 40-some cadets are college students who work part time at the APD, playing a critical role in the agency’s operations.
Among this hard-working group of ambitious young adults, APD Cadet Peter Nguyen stands out.
Not only do his superiors and co-workers praise him for his attention to detail and strong work ethic, but Nguyen also is quite the brainiac.
This past summer, Nguyen, 27, earned a master’s degree in biology from Cal State Fullerton. His thesis was on characterizing a particular protein that has multiple functions inside the body.
If all goes as planned, Nguyen will leave the APD in May 2020 to begin working on his doctorate degree. His interest is stem cells and their role in organ and limb regeneration.
But Nguyen doesn’t plan to disappear in the hallowed halls of academia or in some medical lab.
Growing up with a dual interest in biology and law enforcement, he wants to return to law enforcement, perhaps as a consultant, and apply his knowledge of stem cells to help officers and military personnel with health issues – for example, cardiac disease.
“I want to serve the people who serve me,” Nguyen says. “That’s the least I can do.”
Arrows, indeed, are straight. But Nguyen, possessed with a firm commitment to patriotism and serving his community, gives them a serious a run for the money.
“My father raised us with the belief, ‘Hey, look, we escaped communist Vietnam. We now live in the land of the free. You should always do some kind of service to pay that back.’”
Nguyen was 6 ½ years old when his family – his parents, an older brother, and a younger sister — came to the United States from Vietnam in 1999, joining relatives in Garden Grove.
When he got here, Nguyen wanted to join the military.
“But I was a little too young,” he says with a laugh. “At age 7, I already saw myself putting on the United States military uniform and wearing it with pride.”
Nguyen comes from a family who served.
His grandfather died in the Vietnam War serving with Americans. Word has it he saved the lives of eight Americans by throwing himself on a live grenade.
And Nguyen has an uncle who just retired from the U.S. Navy.
Nguyen’s brother, Matthew, now 31, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, currently is in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Regional Training Academy. He is expected to graduate in February and become an OCSD deputy.
A SECOND PASSION
In middle school, Nguyen took his first biology class and really liked it.
“We did a pulse-chase experiment – an enzyme was labeled with a radioactive agent, and we saw where it traveled under a microscope – and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ And then I wanted to become a biologist.”
Nguyen excelled in biology throughout elementary school and at Santiago High School in Garden Grove, as well as at Cal State Fullerton, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015.
But although he was focused on biology, Nguyen also kept up his interest in the military and law enforcement.
While at Santiago High School, he spent two years in the U.S. Army Junior ROTC program, where he engaged in character development and citizenship programs.
“It was while I was in the ROTC program that I adopted their motto of motivating young people to become good citizens,” said Nguyen, whose brother also was in ROTC.
It was Nguyen’s brother who also urged him to apply for a cadet position at the APD while Peter was working on his master’s degree. At the time, his brother was working as a TCA (Traffic Control Assistant) at the APD.
Peter applied, and was hired as a cadet in April 2018. The job supplements his income as a part-time teacher’s associate at CSUF, where he currently teaches two classes in cellular and molecular biology.
“I loved it,” Nguyen says of his first cadet assignment, working the front counter. “I loved being able to help people who had some kind of an issue and who often were in distress.
“I assisted them to the best of my abilities. And when they would leave, they would smile at me and say, ‘Thank you.’ That gratitude is what would make my day.”
Nguyen transferred to the APD’s Youth Services Detail – C4K (Cops For Kids)/ Explorers in May 2019.
This October, among his many duties, he will begin visiting schools to try to recruit youngsters ages 12-14 into the APD’s junior cadet program, and also will serve as an instructor once a week on drills, physical fitness, and leadership.
“One of the things that I strive to do is motivate young people to become better citizens,” Nguyen says.
One of Nguyen sergeant’s on the Youth Services Detail – C4K/ Explorers is Bob Conklin.
“We strive to remind our youth of their individual power of influence on their peers,” Conklin says. “Their leadership will help others do the right thing.”
Capt. Frank Hale, Division Commander, and Lt. Christopher Moody, Youth Services Section, run the Youth Services Detail – C4K/ Explorers unit.
Sgt. Conklin, Cops-4-Kids supervisor, oversees Cops-4-Kids Officers Ed Arevalo and Staci Dietz.
“I’m proud to be part of a program that will help provide strong leaders for our future,” Arevalo says.
Says Dietz: “In this detail, it’s all positive. I enjoy helping the younger generations succeed in life and their careers.”
The unit also employs a second cadet, Ashley LeFlore, who is giving Nguyen a run for his money.
In September, LeFlore, 22, started working on her master’s degree in forensic psychology from Arizona State University.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a higher place within law enforcement,” says LeFlore, a cadet for about two years at the APD who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State San Bernardino.
“When Peter came onto this unit, and I learned he was working on his master’s, it was like, ‘OK, we can do this,’” LeFlore says. “To see him come into law enforcement and be like, ‘You know, I want to contribute in any way I can,’ it was very inspiring.”
LeFlore plans to become a police officer after she gets her master’s degree.
“He’s a great colleague,” she says of Nguyen. “He works really hard. If you give him a task, he’s up for the challenge and will take care of it.”
Nguyen says words can’t describe his experience at the APD.
“We might have to invent a new word to describe it,” he says. “Although I’ve only been here for a year and a half, it feels like home. The people here treat each other like family.
“I learn so much from them, and they take care of me. Being able to put the uniform on and work alongside with the Officers, the Sergeants, the Lieutenants, the Captains, the Deputy Chief, and the Chief, among many other personnel at the APD, has been one of my most joyful experiences.”