Police actively recruiting Latinos for next cadet class
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Oct. 12, 2012: 35-year old Lourdes Rocha always had it in
the back of her mind to be a police officer, but she tried
several different things before deciding to take a civil service
exam to join the Toledo Police Dept.
Ms. Rocha is coming up on her two-year anniversary as a patrol
officer on the afternoon shift. But one might think a career as
a cop would have been more prominent, because she was raised
from age 11 by her older brother Martin, who has spent nearly
two decades on the force. Her mother died when she was young.
Ms. Rocha graduated from Notre Dame Academy, then attended college
for a year, unsure of what she wanted as a career. She then
moved to Texas and volunteered to work with the homeless and
troubled youth through church-based non-profit groups. Ms. Rocha
even spent a month in India working with orphans.
She later moved back to Toledo and got hired as a flight attendant
with Continental Express. Her Texas-based experience fueled her
curiosity for travel and to see other locations.
“Then I realized I wanted to finish school,” she recalled.
Ms. Rocha then studied education at the University of Toledo
until her junior year. She worked her way through school at UPS.
“After observing in the classroom a couple of times, I realized
it wasn’t for me,” she admitted. “My brother made such a
difference in people’s lives, working with the schools for quite
a few years. I just figured it would be good, I could be a
positive role model for other young people.”
Ms. Rocha took the police civil service exam, then started her
law enforcement career as a corrections officer at the Lucas
“I feel like that prepared for the steps I took for this
career,” she said. “I guess the department was already set in my
heart. I wanted to work for the Toledo Police Dept. so I felt
becoming a corrections officer would prepare me while I was
Ms. Rocha went on a journey of career exploration many young
people find themselves taking. He has no regrets and admitted
her maturity has made her a better police officer.
“Getting older, you realize you know what you want,” she said.
“Younger people don’t know what kind of career they want to go
into. But people also change, interests change, life
circumstances change. For me it’s been a journey—but a learning
one, one I wouldn’t trade if I had a choice.”
Ms. Rocha is just one of a handful of Latinas patrolling the
streets of Toledo. Including civilian workers, Latinas only make
up two percent of the entire police department. But one has
earned the rank of deputy chief and another has reached the
level of sergeant.
“It never hurts to try it. If you try it and don’t like it, you
move on to whatever else you might want to be,” she advised.
“You might want to experience whatever goal you’re trying to
reach. For me, working for the Toledo Police Department is a
career—it’s an honorable career. There are so many aspects to
the job, not just one or two things you’re doing. You wear many,
many hats. It’s been an awesome, awesome experience.”
While she grew up in a bilingual household, Ms. Rocha admits her
Spanish is “not where it should be” in order to help communicate
with the Latino immigrant community. You could say she has an
educational “bucket list” which includes brushing up on her
Spanish as well as finishing her college degree someday—this
time in criminal justice.
Dreams may get delayed, but Ms. Rocha would like to see more
Latinos try to join the Toledo police force.
“If someone from the Latino community has a set goal, stays out
of trouble, has their eye on the prize—anything’s possible,” she
said. “No matter what type of social or economic background, you
can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Those interested in taking the written civil service exam can
fill out an interest card that can be found at
www.toledopolice.com. Those recruits will be contacted to
make formal application in November.
Toledo police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan stated the
department is looking for a large applicant pool, especially
Latinos. The police force not only needs to offset a large
number of retirements, but is seeking to beef up the number of
patrol officers to keep the city safe. According to TPD’s 2011
annual report, there were 585 sworn officers—a number that has
fallen since then. Its authorized strength is much larger than
“That’s the reason we’re trying to get a large number of people
for this recruiting class, because we’re going to be hiring a
large number of people from this list, especially in the
beginning—75 to 80 officers,” explained Sgt. Heffernan. “From
there, we’d like to get one, maybe two more classes.”
In the past, the police civil service exam has been conducted at
the Seagate Convention Center in downtown Toledo. But recruiters
are not sure yet how big the applicant pool will be, so the
location has not yet been determined. The test itself is
tentatively scheduled Dec. 1.
“The mayor’s made a commitment to get us to where we used to be,
or close to where we used to be—somewhere in the 600’s,” said
Sgt. Heffernan. “The typical class we normally run through is 30
to 40 officers.”
“The city is always looking for qualified applications, so the
more applicants we have to take the test, it’s a bigger pool of
applicants to potentially hire,” echoed Det. Mike Koperski,
who’s currently serving on the TPD recruitment team.
TPD began laying the groundwork in August for their cadet
recruitment efforts, which went into high gear the past two
“We’ve found if you go too far out, people lose interest,” said
Det. Koperski. “If you get them right before the application
process starts, you’re going to have a more captive audience.”
That same annual report showed just 40 Latino police officers
within TPD’s ranks, or roughly seven percent of the entire
“That is always a goal of ours, to get qualified minority and
female applicants,” said Det. Koperski. “Traditionally, you’re
always going to have a group of traditional police
officers—white males—that are going to apply for the test. But
we always try to target specific groups that may not consider
this as a career.”
African-American and Latino officers can help defuse volatile
situations on the street.
“I worked the central city for a number of years when I was on
the street—and sometimes they can relate more to people at
calls,” admitted Det. Koperksi. “They can sometimes get more
information at calls. So it does help.”
“It’s a commitment from the (police) chief’s office to make sure
we have a diversified body of officers that represents the
makeup of the city of Toledo,” said Sgt. Heffernan. “It’s
important that the citizens of Toledo understand we are a
reflection of them. Sometimes we don’t have the interest among
the minority groups that we get from the white population, so
that’s why we have to focus our recruitment efforts.”
The recruitment team readily admitted bilingual Latino police
officers are in short supply at TPD. That runs counterintuitive
to a growing Latino population that doesn’t speak English.
“It certainly helps. Anyone who can speak Spanish is a welcome
addition, because we have a large group of people where English
is not their primary language and they don’t speak it
particularly well,” said Det. Koperski. “So it helps us to
communicate if we have more people who can speak Spanish on the
“Quite frankly, most of the Latino officers that we do have
don’t speak Spanish,” said Sgt. Heffernan. “Most of them are
second and third-generation Latinos who may have some Spanish
capabilities. But that’s something we’re really struggling with
is getting Spanish-speaking officers. It is definitely an
attribute and something to be considered in the hiring process.”
The formal application period runs Nov. 3-16 at Fire Station 1,
545 N. Huron St. in downtown Toledo or online at
www.toledopolice.com. Applicants will receive study
materials when they apply to take the civil service exam. This
time, however, the study guide will be emailed to applicants,
who for the first time, will be able to apply on-line. However,
walkups will be allowed during the application process at fire
station #1 in downtown Toledo. Those applicants will receive a
printed booklet to study for the exam.
Applicants must not only pass the civil service exam, but an
extensive background check, an oral interview, medical and
psychological exams, and a physical agility test. But the
current annual salary for a trainee is $44,428, a figure which
rises to $55,536 after three years as a Toledo police officer.
Applicants must be 20-34 years of age to be eligible.