For new police recruits, the academy is often a daunting and stressful experience.
However, Merwin Caiza, a new officer joining the Tustin police force, had an edge – he went into the academy with over eight years of military experience under his belt.
“There were a lot of people that hadn’t been introduced to that kind of stress, and coming from the Marine Corps and boot camp, you’re always stressed out,” Caiza said. “The academy was similar because there’s lots of yelling and people all up in your face; the physical fitness was pretty tough.”
But one thing Caiza learned during his time serving in the Marine Corps is that overcoming challenges like the police academy is a game of mind over matter.
During his time at the academy, Caiza became the honorary class sergeant and helped lead his peers.
“They looked up to me as a mentor and some days were pretty miserable,” Caiza said. “Everyone was suffering, everyone was hurting, but you know what? We were all doing it together.”
Caiza went on two tours in the Middle East, deployed to Japan, and earned the rank of sergeant in the Marine Corps.
Although he had plenty of combat experience, Caiza’s favorite part of his journey with the Marines was teaching new recruits.
“It’s weird to say but the most magical part of the job was teaching someone something and then seeing that little light bulb go off,” Caiza said. “That was always pretty amazing to me. I just love teaching other people stuff.”
Though Caiza’s love for the Marines runs deep, last year he decided that re-enlisting for the third time was not an option.
“Being in the Marine Corps, going to work, and getting deployed was tough on my wife,” Caiza said. “She was basically a single mother. I didn’t want to do that to her again and I also didn’t want that life for my daughter.”
Although sad his time with the Marines was ending, Caiza knew exactly what his next career move would be.
While attending high school, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department’s Explorer program in addition to enrolling in a class about law enforcement called the magnet program.
Caiza also warned those thinking of becoming a police officer to do their research.
“Being a cop isn’t easy. You’re putting your life on the line every day, so you want to understand what you really are getting yourself into,” Caiza said.
Though being a police officer was always something Caiza thought about, making the switch still had its challenges.
“Going from being a role model in the Marines and coming from being a leader back to being a follower, it was tough,” Caiza said. “At first it was hard for me, but I adjusted and like everything else I knew I just had to move on with it.”
While at Camp Pendleton, Caiza met Mike Carter, who works for the Tustin Police Department. At the time, he was Caiza’s senior and supervisor.
“After the Marines, I knew he went to Tustin, so I reached out to him and asked, ‘Hey, how do you like it?’” Caiza said. “He told me that he loved working for this department and that there was an opening, so I applied.”
With Carter’s encouragement, Caiza embarked on the journey to becoming an officer for the Tustin Police Department.
“I know my place, I know I am new; I’m honored and privileged to be here and I just want to be constantly picking at different brains to try and learn this job the best I can,” Caiza said. “Every single day I want to improve.”
Caiza is currently in field training, but he has big aspirations.
“My first goal is to get off field training, get off probation, and then eventually after serving my time as a patrol officer, I would love to be part of the GRADE Unit,” Caiza said. GRADE is the department’s Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement Unit. “Because I have a daughter, I really want to keep the streets safe for her so that involves keeping all the gangs, drugs, and all that stuff away from the youths.”
However, Caiza’s passion to clean up the streets goes beyond his daughter.
“I’m a true believer that the children are our future and that’s another reason to why I fell in love with Tustin,” Caiza said. “The police here are really involved with the community, especially with the youth, and they do all these programs for them.”