March 28 was both the end and the beginning. It was the end of 10 months of hard work, testing and most of all dedication, and it was also the beginning of a new career for Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Member Paula Alvarez, who graduated from the Law Enforcement Training Academy (LETA) at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Alvarez was the first Salt River Police Department (SRPD) police officer and Community member to graduate from the SRPD Extended Police Academy Pilot Program.
With the help of the SRPMIC Higher Education Department, Alvarez was able to enroll in the Law Enforcement Training Academy, which is designed to provide police-academy training that meets or exceeds the requirements of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST). LETA is another option for students who are seeking employment as a sworn Arizona police officer and are looking to improve their skills and qualifications.
A More Flexible Schedule
The general police academy that a new SRPD officer would go through after being hired is a full-time academy that runs five days a week for four or five months. LETA, which is taken through community-college courses, takes 10 months to complete, but it’s part time. Students attend only two nights and one day (Saturday) per week. It’s a more flexible alternative for people to get their certification to become a police officer.
“This avenue was recommended to me by retired police captain Clore. He knew I was interested in being an officer with Salt River, but at the time the department wasn’t hiring. So he suggested I go through LETA to get my certification so I would be considered once they started hiring new officers,” said Alvarez. “I would go two days a week at night and all day on Saturday; that way I was able to keep my full-time job and do the academy at the same time.”
Speakers at the ceremony told friends and family that the long journey wasn’t easy. The LETA class started with 34 people, but only 15 completed the training and graduated from the program. They are the ones who truly put their heart into it and finished with pride.
Alvarez recommends the community college–based LETA academy to anyone who wants to become a police officer.
“SRPD is a great department to work for,” said Alvarez. “If you choose the same route I have taken, or if it’s a career you would like to get into, just test and go through the full-time academy. The part-time academy is always an option, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”
A Special Surprise
During the graduation ceremony on March 28, SRPD Police Chief Patrick R. Melvin presented Alvarez with her Arizona Post Certification and, as a surprise to Alvarez and everyone at the ceremony, Chief Melvin asked permission to speak at the lectern for a special presentation. He told Alvarez and the audience he had spoken with SRPMIC President Diane Enos and was authorized to officially offer Alvarez a permanent position with the SRPD. Chief Melvin asked Alvarez if she would accept the offer, and she agreed. She was then presented with her SRPD police officer badge and told to report to work at 8 a.m. sharp to begin serving the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for the first time ever as Officer P. Alvarez, badge number 272.
Alvarez previously worked as a secretary at the SRPD. “As a secretary, I read a lot of the reports and I saw everything that the officers were doing. That sparked an interest in me to become an officer,” she said.
“I was able to help with some of the events that the SRPD takes part in, such as Safety Day and Shop with a Cop,” said Alvarez. “Interacting with the youth and seeing them excited being around officers made me want to be a positive influence to them.
“I am looking forward to all the experiences I will have and getting to know a little bit more about the Community, the culture and working with the people.” She expressed her gratitude to all of her family, friends and co-workers for their support and encouragement while she was in school and as she continues on her journey as a police officer.
AAN Senior Reporter Tasha Silverhorn contributed to this article.