For the nearly 50 women who rose early to test their stamina on a cloudy, cold Saturday morning, it was their first step toward a potential new career.
The Santa Ana Police Department’s first-ever Female Training Class at the Centennial Regional Park Training Center held March 4 was designed to help future female officers pass the department’s rigorous physical agility test.
Physical agility is often cited by potential female recruits as a key barrier in the application process, says Sgt. Maria Lopez, SAPD’s public information officer.
The training event allowed participants to discuss law enforcement careers with female Santa Ana officers, discuss the department’s hiring process with human resources representatives, and receive helpful on-the-spot tips on preparing for and passing the physical agility test.
Perhaps most important, the potential recruits could apply for a position at the same time.
“This is a special day,” Lopez said. “We’ve pledged to have female officers representing 30 percent of our department by 2030 – and this is a first step in making that happen.”
“One of the toughest parts of the process for females is the physical agility class,” she acknowledged, “so we put this event together with a number of good coaches to help recruits with the process.”
Corp. Kenneth Gray of SAPD’s background unit welcomed the women and described the challenges addressed during the event, noting that each activity mirrored the challenges required of successful recruits.
“This will let you know where you’re at,” Gray explained.
The agility tests include:
- 5-mile run, finished in a recommended time of under 14 minutes
- 500-yard sprint
- Body drag
- Obstacle course, and
- 6-foot solid wall climb, with an optional chain-link fence climb.
Each attendee received a list of tips designed to help them train for and pass each physical agility challenge.
“We want to help you train to maximize your points,” Cpl. Gray noted. “We recommend you put it all out there for every event.”
Recruitment Officer Jared Picard emphasized that the weekend event was designed specifically with potential female recruits in mind.
“This is for you,” Picard said. “We want you all to apply. And this is the best time to ask questions and take advantage of the answers.”
Officer Natalie Garcia, who formerly served with the Orange County Sherriff’s Department prior to joining SAPD three years ago, noted that the one thing coaches can’t give potential recruits is the gumption and grit required for them to succeed.
“Today will allow you to test yourself and show what you need to work on,” Garcia added.
Commander Rosa Ponce de Leon started with Santa Ana Police Department in 1998. She is enthused about the department’s 30 by 30 Initiative and believes that including more females will improve policing. The Female Training Class and similar events are important ways to educate women about career opportunities.
“If they think they want to do it, we can help train them to succeed,” Ponce de Leon said.
Though she was a veteran athlete when she first applied to join the SAPD, she remembers the agility tests as being difficult.
“The mental training in stamina and determination was as important as the physical part,” she said.
Additional females will make the department’s team more approachable and add new policing perspectives, she said.
“Females will raise our level of humanity and change the ways we approach situations in the community,” she observed.
“It’s rewarding to see the changes” that the 30 by 30 Initiative promises, she says. “The people we are hiring want to be here – they truly have the heart to serve.”
For Aimee Rivera, who has already passed the written exam required for recruitment, the training event was another vital step toward her ultimate goal of becoming a Santa Ana police officer.
“This is important for all of us females to show where we’re at and to give us a gauge showing the things we need to work on,” Rivera said.
As for the department’s commitment to add females to the force, she declared, “We need younger generations and we need to see females in action.”
With new officers earning between $75,000 and $115,000 with built-in pay incentives for night patrol, detective work, bilingual ability, and higher education, potential recruits can look forward to work that is both well-compensated and fascinating, Lopez noted.
Positions range from mounted patrol officers to K9 units and from SWAT officers to detectives and enforcement divisions, among many other opportunities.
Ponce de Leon said that industrywide, females account for just 13 percent of police officers; about 10 percent of Santa Ana’s force is female. That means that in the next seven years, SAPD will need to successfully recruit and hire at least 78 new female police officers.
One potential recruit’s t-shirt read “The Future is Female.” That seemed to set the tone for the event, said participant Amy Aguirre.
At 15 years old, the Santa Ana Virtual Academy freshman was by far the youngest potential recruit attending the event. Aguirre also placed first in the 1.5-mile run. She said she is inspired to pursue a career in police work by her uncle, who’s a member of the SAPD.
“I plan to go to UC Irvine or UCLA and study criminal justice in college,” she said. “But this event is important to me to begin training and adjust my mindset.”