The first thing you notice about Officer Macarena Garner is she’s about 5 feet tall.
Maybe 5’1” when she’s wearing her Campaign Cover that adds a bit of height due to its pointy top.
But to be clear, her size doesn’t slow her down as Bakersfield Police Department’s first full-time female Recruit Training Officer (RTO). In fact, she prides herself on knowing it’s the combination of her size, demeanor and ability to discipline that makes her a great mentor.
“The first two weeks at the academy is all about yelling and discipline,” said Garner. “It’s not that we are trying to break them. We are trying to show them a taste of what they are going to deal with out in the world. They have to be able to handle stress … they have to be able to deal with people who want to hurt them while yelling at them and still remain in control.”
For Garner, who has been with Bakersfield Police Department for the last seven years, becoming an RTO is a dream fulfilled. The Chile-born police officer arrived in Kern County when she was 17 years old. She finished her junior year at one of the local Bakersfield high schools and went on to Bakersfield College before she moved to San Diego to live beachside for several years.
Becoming a police officer was a calling, one she couldn’t tamp down even when she told herself that she didn’t have what it took to wear the uniform.
She was petite, didn’t have any family or friends in law enforcement, and the job felt out of reach. But as she got into her 20s and still sought her path, she always came back to being a police officer.
“It was a childhood dream that I pushed away. I was always hesitant because I didn’t think I had what it took … I was insecure,” Garner said. “But then one day I told myself if I don’t try then I will never know if I could’ve done it.”
Garner enrolled at Bakersfield Police Academy and told her parents she was going to become a police officer – a first for her family.
“In Chile, female police officers work office jobs. They don’t go out in the field, so my mom was fine with it until she asked me what I was going to be doing at the department and I told her I would be on patrol,” Garner laughed. “She was very surprised. But my family has been very, very supportive of me through the academy, graduation and now in my career.”
Since joining Bakersfield Police Department, Garner has worked as a patrol officer, joined the gang unit, became a taser instructor and a field training officer. When she began working with new police officers, she realized she enjoyed teaching them.
She was asked to take a temporary role as a recruitment training officer at the Bakersfield Police Academy. She spent two weeks getting in the faces of new recruits and loved it. When she was asked to become the first full-time female officer, she was thrilled to break gender barriers.
“The department is very supportive, and all of the female officers are very supportive of one another,” Garner said. “Having me as an RTO has helped with the retention of female police recruits. I think having positive female role models helps recruits see there is a lot of opportunity here.”
Garner understands being tough will help her recruits out in the field in the long run.
“I am so passionate about this career,” she said. “I care about our recruits and don’t want them to get hurt. This fire sits inside of me that I bring to the position.”
For Garner, when she places the Campaign Cover on her head, the importance of her job, of turning civilians into police officers, is what allows her to go from understanding educator to disciplinarian.
It’s why at 4 a.m. she can leave her maternal role at the door and be who the recruits need her to be to get through the intensive program that she believes is 90 percent mental.
“If recruits are not mentally strong to do this job, they aren’t going to bother to get through the physical part of this job. There’s a shock with showing up (at the academy) on your first day,” said Garner. “There’s a stress that they aren’t used to feeling. They aren’t used to being told what to do, being confronted, being yelled at or telling them what their mistakes. And we try to make them mentally stronger to handle it. Every dAay you have to be motivated to come back and do it all over again.”