Alan Uribe, Kyle Meyer and George Marin, despite their youth, are old-style police recruits.
All three still believe in the honor of the profession and the crime fighting and public safety mission. And yet the recruits of the Tustin Police Department also understand they will enter a far different world of law enforcement and engagement than they had imagined.
Paradigms and policies are shifting.
Words like “defund” have entered the lexicon. Unrest roils and percolates just below the surface. The motto “protect and serve” isn’t so simple anymore.
These days, police find themselves front and center in a growing and shifting national debate, many being asked to atone for the sins of the few.
However, the newest candidates of the Tustin police force remain resolute and even excited to meet the times ahead.
The trio are among five officers-to-be in different stages of the process of becoming cops.
Marin, 23, graduated with a class of 45 at the end of September from the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy with Beck Svensson. Meyer, 20 is in the midst of training and is to graduate Feb. 3, 2021. He will be joined by Tevin Luther, another Tustin recruit. Uribe, 23, is in the pre-academy and will join a class of 88 police hopefuls.
For Uribe, Meyer and Marin, entering law enforcement has long been a foregone conclusion. All three are products of police Explorer programs. Marin started with the Tustin Police Explorer Post, Uribe joined the program in Orange when he was 15, and Meyer, who was with the program in Brea, said he comes from a law enforcement family and has wanted to be a policeman since he was five years old.
Although all three say they never wavered, the same cannot be said of their families.
Uribe said the relationship between police and the public has weighed on his family and loved ones.
“It’s not so much a lack of support, but they do express fear and anxiety,” he said.
Most affected, Uribe said, are his “parents and, I would say, my girlfriend. She’s still trying to acclimate to being a future wife of a cop.”
Marin said his family, particularly his mom, has been worried since the riots and protests broke out in Orange County in May and June.
“They’re definitely more concerned. But they understand and will stick by my side,” Meyer said.
Marin said he knows not to take the protests personally.
“My personality is to be cool, calm and collected,” he said, even though, “we know some don’t like us.”
Marin recently got a first-hand experience of some of the negative attitudes toward police. While on a training exercise, someone threw an egg at his cruiser.
Although he wasn’t hit, Marin realized it could have been serious, especially had they used a more dangerous projectile.
“It really opened my eyes,” Marin said. “I never saw it coming. It wasn’t even in my mind that people would be throwing things at me.”
Uribe said he is keenly aware of the prevailing political and social climate around law enforcement — and he welcomes it. As a police officer, he believes he can do his part to reverse negative perceptions.
“It hasn’t changed me in a negative way,” he said. “I try to be a little more confident that this is what I want to do. It has pushed me in a positive way, just in my mindset.”
The three candidates say the academy, with its militaristic boot camp style of instruction, also helps them become inured to abuse on the streets.
“They’re teaching us emotional control,” Uribe said. “They yell at us all the time for a purpose.”
The academy has also changed some of its policies in reaction to the times, notwithstanding the use of masks and social distancing in response to the pandemic.
Uribe said candidates as a safety protocol are instructed not to wear anything that identifies them as police candidates in public.
“We can’t even meet together now in public because we’re easily recognizable,” he said.
It remains to be seen how the current tumult will change recruitment moving forward. In September 2019, before the recent spate of high-profile and fatal altercations between police and the public, the Police Executive Research Forum issued a report with a first sentence that reads, “The policing profession is facing a workforce crisis.”
And the information didn’t get better from there.
Retirements and pre-retirement exits from the profession are accelerating, applications are declining, and many departments say they are already short-staffed.
Nearly two thirds of departments that participated in the survey reported declining applications. Many also face challenges recruiting minority, female, and bilingual officers.
Furthermore, the skill-set and temperament for today’s police officers is changing, as they are expected to be both tech savvy to deal with the growing rate of cybercrime and able to handle social issues such as untreated mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.
Now, overlaid on that is a growing militancy and rancor from different sectors of the public.
Officer Mark Sauerwein, with the Tustin Police Department Professional Standards Unit, said he has yet to see any changes in the kinds of recruits that are coming to the Tustin force.
Currently, the department is looking to recruit and test lateral transfers from other departments. Despite the times and the challenges of modern policing, the candidates are excited to be joining Tustin, and say the department’s stellar reputation made it a big draw.
Marin has been enamored of Tustin cops since he was a child. His family was burglarized when they lived in Tustin. The experience could have been traumatizing for a small child, but the care and compassion from the Tustin police officers made an impression on Marin that continues.
He decided to apply for the force soon after his graduation from Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Uribe said even when he was with the Orange Explorers, the Tustin Police Department was well known.
“Word spreads about the different agencies,” he said. “I heard a lot of great things about Tustin just being community oriented. I felt I’d fit in.”
Many believe the Tustin Police Department’s commitment to community policing and relations have helped the agency enjoy widespread neighborhood approval where other departments have had heightened tension.
Meyer said while he was in Brea Explorers, “I saw Tustin was hiring. I went on a ride-along and instantly fell in love. It’s truly a family.”
Meyer put in a year in the city’s cadet program and said, “it’s been one of the best times of my life.”
All three say they are anxious and excited about completing their academy training and becoming Tustin police officers.