Surveying the scene of nine graduating cadets and family members who joined the audience at Pharr Events Center, South Texas College President Shirley Reed reflected on the obstacles overcome for the school to train its first class of police trainees.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said.
South Texas College began discussing how to add police education more than 15 years ago, she said.
STC officials finally signed a partnership agreement with Pharr police in August and within a month, cadets were attending class.
While Pharr and other local entities offer in-house police academies, students graduate the 20-week program with a law enforcement certificate and 24 hours of college credit. Administrators and police leaders say the credit hours put students well on their way to attaining a four year bachelor’s degree and qualifying for career advancement.
“It’s marrying the professionalism and training Pharr offers with academics that STC offers,” said instructor Joel Rivera, chief deputy with Hidalgo County Constable Pct. 4.
More than 40 individuals applied and only 12 were accepted into the program. Entry was determined based on qualifications, background checks and a polygraph test. Candidates were also required to score a minimum of 85 on all exams to advance in the course, Rivera said.
Two cadets were dismissed for failing to meet testing standards and another was dismissed for administrative reasons.
The remaining nine passed state peace officer exams Wednesday — the culmination of a program that began in September.
Officer Jorge Ivan Guerra said at the Thursday graduation ceremony that over the past five months the cadets “basically didn’t have a life.”
Guerra said he plans to eventually pursue a leadership position in law enforcement and the program prepared him well for future studies.
The next class of cadets is expected to be seated sometime in February. Reed said she hopes the program will form the basis of a regional public safety training center.
While the college develops its law enforcement training, STC is moving toward adding full-time police officers at each campus. Campuses are currently served by officers from the McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City police departments as well as the Department of Public Safety and a private security service.
“Each department that we contract with has a different culture of their own. Often times that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the college culture,” said STC Director of Security Paul Varville.
The college plans to expand community policing, which looks to proactively address crime or other disturbances, in part by using officers familiar with the campuses and the students and staff who use them, Varville said.
Until a chief of police is named, Varville will serve as department leader. Eight officers are expected to be hired for the college’s McAllen campuses this year with additional officers added for Starr County and other campuses later.
The new police force will look to hire several experienced officers to launch the force, but Varville said it could eventually draw on classes graduated from the academy for new hires. The nine graduates from the academy will immediately move on to positions within the Pharr Police Department.
Claudia Rodriguez, the only female graduate among the academy’s nine cadets, chose to follow the career path of her father, a former Reynosa police officer.
“Keeping up with the guys is really tough, it’s like nothing I expected,” she said.
Rodriguez said the combination of academics and experienced offered by her instructors have prepared her to eventually complete a bachelor’s in criminal justice and attain the career she desires: being a crime scene investigator.