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Contact: Cesar Canizales
214-378-1859; ccanizales@dcccd.edu

For immediate release — Jan. 27, 2016

​Dallas Police Detective Carlos Cardenas was studying other subjects at Mountain View College when he visited a criminal justice class. He knew immediately it was time to change his path.

(DALLAS) — When Dallas Police Detective Carlos Cardenas talks about the long, winding path he traveled to go into law enforcement, the Mountain View College alumnus’s face lights up, and he becomes emotional about his job. For him, being a cop is a lifelong calling.

“It was something that I was born to do,” he exclaims with a smile. “As far as I can remember, since I was 3 or 4 years old, it was something that always pulled me. Growing up, I used to tell my grandfather that I was going to be a cop, chase bad guys and help people.”

But getting where he is now happened almost by accident because his parents opposed his plan to enter law enforcement, and they refused to help him financially. “They were afraid that if something happened to me, it would be their fault because they supported me,” Cardenas says.

After he graduated from high school, Cardenas followed his parents’ wishes and went to Mountain View, where he took business management classes. Cardenas said he “absolutely hated it and (I) didn’t understand anything. It wasn’t the professors. It just wasn’t for me.” Eventually, he switched to electronics and enjoyed it because he was good at math and wiring things, but it wasn’t his passion.

A Class Visit Changes a Life

Everything changed one day when he was walking by criminal justice faculty member Bill Drake’s office. “I sat down and told him my story. He told me that the job is a calling, and only the person who has been called to do that job knows it,” Cardenas recalls.

Drake invited him to attend one of his classes. “The next day I went to his class. I knew right then and there that this job was for me,” says Cardenas. “I knew it from the second he started talking. I was 100% sure of it, so I dropped all my classes, and I didn’t care how much money I had spent on all the other courses. I knew I was passionate about it.”

The Dallas Police Department hired Cardenas just before he finished his associate degree in criminal justice. He then attended the police academy for 32 weeks, followed by 24 weeks of field training. The 32-year-old earned his detective badge three years ago. “I don’t see this as a job. It’s my passion, and I love it. I don’t mind waking up in the morning and coming to work because it’s fun,” he adds.

Diane Freeman, a professor at Mountain View who is also a detective for the Dallas PD, taught one of Cardenas’ classes at the college. She says not every student who takes her classes is interested in going into law enforcement, but by the end of the semester, many of them end up pursuing criminal justice as a major. “A lot of them take the introduction to criminal justice class because it’s an elective course for them, but they just don’t realize that they want to get into this line of work. I kind of guide them into it,” Freeman says with a smile.

Darlin Ramirez is one of those students. The 23-year-old was hesitant about pursuing a career in criminal justice, and it wasn’t his first choice, he says. “Once I started the class with Detective Freeman, I changed my mind,” Ramirez says. “Little by little, her experience and the stories she shared actually pushed me into it. Now I really want to be a forensic scientist.”

​Not the Right Job for Everyone

​Student Darlin Ramirez wasn't sure at first that criminal justice was the right field for him. Now he's excited about a future as a forensic scientist.

Freeman, who investigates financial crimes, says that law enforcement is not for everyone. “It’s very stressful. It doesn’t matter what position you’re in — whether you’re in patrol or in a detective spot or whether you’re a sergeant, a lieutenant or a chief. We’re in a very stressful job. You’re always on your guard. You’re always ‘on,’” Freeman says. “You’re dealing with people’s lives. If you write a false or incorrect report and it becomes a government document, you could change someone’s life and put that person behind bars.”

Cardenas shares Freeman’s sentiments. “When you get a call on the radio and you go to investigate, you have no idea what’s going to happen. They give you minimal information on the call. You get there, and your stress level goes up. If it’s nothing, your stress level goes down. Then you might get an emergency call, and the stress level goes way up. Stress levels go up and down, and there’s never a steady day, ever,” he says.

In addition to job stress, a career in law enforcement is dangerous, but that has not deterred Ramirez. “It can be risky, and it’s something you just have to accept and be careful,” Ramirez states. “But people thank you for risking your life. They don’t even know you, but they care about you and your safety.”

Some prospective officers recognize early that a law enforcement career is not for them. “Leaving is actually safer for them. Staying can get someone else killed,” Freeman explains. “Many young students see this career as exciting, so I have to explain to them that it is totally different from what they watch on TV, which is sensationalized and is not real life.”

“When I was in the academy, there were people who quit once they saw what the job was like. And it’s not because of cowardice — it just wasn’t for them. I’m glad they realized it back then, and they’re not out here where they can get somebody hurt,” Cardenas says.

“When you get into this line of work, you’re doing it to give back to the community. It’s not a glamorous job, and you’re not going to get rich. It’s strictly considered a blue-collar job, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Freeman says. “But it is a rewarding and respectable job. I’m glad I can help people find out who stole their money. Even if the victims know they will not get all their money back, at least in their hearts they feel they got some type of justice, whether the criminal got probation or was put behind bars.”

Multiple Challenging Career Options

Freeman said Mountain View offers seven core courses in criminal justice, and students have three different career paths they can take: courts, corrections or policing, which is her area of specialization. She adds that many students want to work in a forensics lab because it’s one of the more exciting areas of criminal justice, but it’s not easy. “What they don’t realize is that not only do they have to take criminal justice courses, but they also must take classes that require a lot of biology, science and chemistry.”

Cardenas says that every student should go on a police ride-along and observe officers for a full shift. “The second they sit in that car and see what an officer goes through, from answering a call to talking to bad guys to dealing with the public, they will know instantly whether the job is for them,” he adds.

After 12 years on the job, Cardenas says his parents finally approve of his career choice. “My mom and dad are so proud of me. They brag about me to everyone. They really transitioned from ‘We don’t want to you to do this!’ to ‘Look at our son!’”

For more information about the criminal justice program at Mountain View College, call Diane Freeman at 214-860-8661 or send an email to dfreeman@dcccd.edu.

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