From left, Stephanie DeWolfe, Isaac Gutierrez, Catalina Valdez and So Pas Police Chief Joe Ortiz at the ceremony for the two new officers. Photo courtesy of So Pas Police

The South Pasadena Police Department (SPPD) welcomed two officers into the fold recently who came from within the ranks, one serving as a cadet and the other a dispatcher.

Moreover, Catalina Valdez, who served as the SPPD dispatcher for a decade, takes to the streets of So Pas as the only female officer in the department. The other addition, Isaac Gutierrez, was a cadet before being sworn in as a police officer.

“I have always wanted to be in law enforcement,” said Valdez, who along with Gutierrez will be assigned a field training officer as they work patrol. “My dream job is to be a detective. I have always been interested in investigations.”

Valdez said she thought, perhaps, she may be too old to become a police officer – she says she’s in her early 40s – but wanted to try anyway.

“In 2008, when I applied, I had become somewhat unhappy where I was working,” Valdez said in an email to The Review. “At that time, in my opinion, I felt too old to pursue my dream job of  becoming a police officer, but still wanted to do something in law enforcement. I came across the Police Assistant (Dispatcher) job posting with the city, so I applied, took the test, passed and processed with South Pasadena PD. I was hired and worked as a Dispatcher from 4/2008 to 12/2018.”

Not only was she not too old but she has proved to be a valuable asset to others including Gutierrez, who credited Valdez for getting him to where he is today.

“Catalina has been a tremendous help to me,” Gutierrez said during a brief telephone interview when he took a break from an active-shooter training exercise recently at the Rise Bowl. “This has been a life-long dream for me and my family to become a police officer and the South Pasadena Police Department has given me the opportunities to fulfill that dream. I am extremely grateful.”

Gutierrez and Valdez recently graduated from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy, considered one of the most rigorous in the nation, and were sworn-in last week as SPPD officers.

Valdez, who is a single mother and shares custody, found the academy taxing on several level’s but graduated alongside her male counterparts standing nearby in appreciation. She explained.

Catalina Valdez is the only female South Pasadena Police officer currently in the department. Valdez recently
graduated from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Academy.
Photo courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department.

“A couple things were tough for me,” Valdez said in the email.  “The physical training and going between an academy recruit between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. and  then switching to adult/mother for the rest of the night. The physical training was hard and at my age, it felt even harder. At the beginning, we were doing scheduled PT (physical training) at least 3 times per week, if not more, and throughout the day our staff would make us do push-ups, planks, squats, etc. My body took longer to recover compared the much younger recruits. The other tough part for me was switching roles from an adult to a recruit, then back to an adult. Not that the academy staff treated us like children, but there was a lot of yelling; especially in the beginning. I have a six-year-old son at home, so when I got home, if his homework was not done, we had to sit down and make sure it was completed before going to bed.  I had to make him dinner, help him shower and read before bed. Then after I did all that, I had to get my equipment ready, do any homework, write any papers assigned, and find time to study.”

Valdez said she is proud and grateful to have exceled in the academy and says being the only female officer in the department is an asset.

“I think it is a huge benefit being a female officer,” she said. “I am the only female officer at my department. I can now assist other officers with searching females or talking to female victims and/or suspects. When a neighboring agency calls for a female officer for a search, I can assist.”

Gutierrez, 23, also echoed those comments, saying that Valdez is going to be a fine police officer. Although both recruits, Gutierrez said Valdez’s experience is invaluable.

“We are so lucky to have Officer Valdez,” he said. “She helped me get here and she has already been helping others.”

Meanwhile, Valdez said she honors those female officers that have come before her in the department because they paved the way for women like herself.

“There have been other female officers at our department,” she said. “Captain (DeAnne) Wheeless retired in 2013 and our last female patrol officer, I believe, left in 2009. She also was a dispatcher before becoming a Police Officer. But since then, we have not had another female officer.”

And she understands why police officers come from the dispatcher ranks. Valdez said she loved being dispatcher.

“I loved that not one day was the same as the previous day,” she said. “Every day was different. We had our slow days and we had our busy days. I also liked helping the citizens of South Pasadena and the general public. Whether it was someone calling in a complaint of a barking dog or someone reporting a crime, getting the pertinent information from the victim, relaying that information to the officers out in the field and knowing that they arrested the suspect was rewarding. I felt a sense of accomplishment.” 

But now she’s transitioning into the role of a police officer, duly sworn in by So Pas Chief Joe Ortiz.

“We were fortunate with these two recruits because they both came from within the department,” Ortiz said in an email to The Review. “Being previous employees with the department, they understand the agencies culture and are truly an organizational fit. Both officers are fully capable of achieving organizational goals and understand community demographics and the importance of connecting with the residents. Both officers are currently assigned to Field Training Officers and should complete their training program in the next six months.”

What would Valdez tell other young women that want a career in law enforcement?

Don’t give up,” she said. “Even if life throws you curve balls and you’re unable to fulfill your dream at an early age, keep trying. We will always be outnumbered by males, but that should not intimidate you.” 

The addition of Valdez and Gutierrez brings the SPPD total of sworn officers to 33, according to Ortiz. They have three openings.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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