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Learning Center Experience
By Al Fernandez, Faculty, Criminal Justice Department
I recently was
asked to write an article about “what I do” and thought this would be a great
platform to pass on my feelings and thoughts about having one of the greatest
jobs in the world. To truly tell you what I do, I would have to explain why I
became a police officer on December 16, 1985, in spite of the objections from
my mother and father. They had real reservations about working in a “dangerous”
field and also about my financial future. I was leaving a job as a construction
manager at O’Hare Airport and this new position lowered my salary by more than
half. Financially, that did not make sense to my parents. However, to me,
becoming a police officer was more than just a way of making money. It was a
way to repay a debt to the American people who allowed my family to immigrate
to the United States from Cuba. It was a way for me to do my part to safeguard
the rights given to all citizens and people who live in the United States. I
took my oath of office extremely seriously, and still believe that it is the
guiding light in what I do.
the past 30 years, I have been fortunate enough to have numerous assignments. I
started out as a patrol officer, working a beat, answering calls, and looking
for ways to help the community that I worked for. Patrol officers are given
discretion to answer calls and solve problems. Sometimes arresting someone is
not the right answer. For example, I remember a call I received about a
“drive-off” from a local gas station. A young man driving a blue pickup truck
left a gas station without paying for $12.50 worth of gas. I happened to be
nearby and caught up to the young man as he was about to get on the highway.
As I talked to
this young man, he told me that he had moved from this area to Indiana about 3 months
prior. He had returned to the area to spend a weekend visiting his girlfriend,
but that he had spent all his money taking her out to dinner and a movie, and
now he had no money to pay for gas to go back home. I had this young man follow
me back to the gas station and loaned him $20.00 to pay for the gas and to have
a little extra cash for the ride home. I told him that it was a loan and that I
expected repayment. Approximately a week later I received a thank you letter
and $20.00. The thank you letter would have been repayment enough for me. I
believe that working as a patrol officer is one of the best and most rewarding
jobs anyone can have, because you are in a position to help someone when they
are at the point in their lives when they need help the most.
have also been fortunate enough to work in our gang and narcotics unit. This
was a great high intensity, adrenaline-filled position, as I really saw the
damage that drugs do to families and our country. Some may think of drug use as
a personal choice that only harms the users—however, drug use destroys families
and our society. The cost that we pay as a society for the destruction of
dreams and families is significant.
This position was
one of the most difficult for me personally because it did take a toll on my
family. I worked numerous hours and weekends, as I was on call to work when “things
are going on” and “things are always going on.” I missed a lot of time that I
should have spent with my two young daughters. I blinked my eyes and they went
from babies to teenagers. I decided at this time that I needed a normal
schedule (well at least as normal of a schedule as I could get). I asked to be
reassigned and was fortunate enough to be assigned to junior high schools (7th and
8th grade) as the school resource officer (SRO).
an SRO, I was responsible for acting as a liaison between the police department
and the local elementary school district. I also handled all criminal and
non-criminal matters in the school district. I thought this would be a little unexciting
for me (especially after coming out of our gang and narcotics unit), but the
schedule would be awesome. I worked the same schedule as the teachers (except
for having the summers off). It turned out that it was not boring at all! As a
matter of fact, it was one of the best assignments I have had the opportunity
I saw that many of
the children in the school had no one to talk to or ask for advice. I took this
opportunity to try to be a role model and show these students that police
officers are just people too. I made a lot of connections with students and
their families. Some of my best friends now are families of students that I
dealt with at the school. I also made connections with students who were at
risk of joining gangs or committing crimes. I’d like to think that in some
small way I was able to change the lives of a few of them. I have had some of
those students come back to me and thank me for taking time out to talk to them
and pointing out the consequences of some of their actions. This to me is truly
the greatest reward anyone could ever receive. The thought that I was in a
position to change a young person’s life and was able to alter their life for
the better is more thanks than any monetary reward I could ever receive.
after leaving the SRO position, I was assigned to a financial crimes task force
that was created by U.S. Customs. The purpose of this task force was to track
the money from drug sales and seize that money. One of my roles in this task
force was to pose as a drug cartel money pickup man and pick up the money from
dealers. Working undercover like this takes a special frame of mind and a whole
lot of trust in the people to keep you safe. Planning, training, and
intelligence played a huge role in the work we did. This particular job taught
me to read people’s actions and body language so that I could plan my actions. The
task force that I worked for seized millions of dollars that would have gone to
drug cartels and prevented tons of narcotics from reaching the streets. This to
me, was one of the ways that I could prevent families from being torn apart by
again, I found myself not spending enough time with my family. I requested to
come out of this task force and a short while later I was assigned to another
task force. This time, I was assigned to the Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT).
MCAT is a task force that was created to investigate major crimes, typically
homicides, in the Northwest suburbs of Cook County, Illinois. I was assigned as
one of the investigators. This unit is truly a blueprint of how smaller suburbs
should work together to solve homicides. MCAT presently has several branches,
including a forensic unit, a surveillance unit, an investigations unit, a fatal
crash investigation unit, and most recently an officer involved death unit. MCAT
provides a member town with the manpower and expertise to truly spend the time
required to investigate any major crime. On a homicide call out, they would
summon 32 investigators, 24 crime scene investigators, and a command staff. Each
of the members of MCAT are highly trained individuals who are experts in their
fields. MCAT has a 96% clearance rate in the cases that we are called out on. This
is far higher than the national clearance rate of 46.8% in violent crimes
the 10 years that I spent working on the MCAT task force I participated in
solving over 150 homicides. I specifically obtained confessions from homicide
suspects in over 8 cases. The last 3 years that I spent in the unit I was one
of the lead interviewers. I learned a substantial amount about interview and
interrogations from some of my colleagues and from training courses. One of the
things that I truly loved about working in MCAT is that we were the voice of
the victim. It did not matter if the victim was a gang member or an outstanding
member of the community. Our job was to obtain justice for someone who could no
longer speak for themselves. One of the hardest things to do is inform someone
that their loved one has been taken away from them by violence. I felt a strong
need to also inform them that we had located the offender and had built a
strong case against them so that the family and friends of the victim could
have some closure.
the 10 years with MCAT, I decided that it was time to start winding my career
down somewhat. I asked to come out of the unit and was placed in my
department’s investigations section. I currently work as a general case
investigator, but my caseload is typically crimes against persons. I work cases
from simple battery to predatory sexual assaults. Being able to change with the
times and adapt to what technology has to offer is one reason I think that I am
successful at what I do. Sometimes I find it amazing that some suspects post
their feats on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or other social media.
able to help someone who has been a victim of a violent crime against them is
one of the most rewarding jobs anyone can have. I have seen the look of fear,
shame, or simply of not knowing what to do in victim’s faces. Knowing that I
have the ability to calm their fears, tell them that what happened was not
their fault, and guide them through the criminal justice system is extremely
I was picked by the MCAT command staff to become one of ten officer involved death
investigators. This unit investigates any case, within its member’s
jurisdiction, that involves a death at the hands of an officer or within the
lockup facility of a member jurisdiction. To me, it is a tremendous
responsibility to make sure that when a police officer is called to take
someone’s life, that my Unit makes sure that it was done within the confines of
the law and within the department’s policy. This calls for a thorough and
transparent investigation that will be scrutinized by the Justice Department
and by the citizens.
also teach for Kaplan University. Kaplan University has afforded me a way to
make the criminal justice system a little better than when I first started. I
am able to pass along some of the knowledge that I have gained over the past 30
years to our students. I hope that my knowledge combined with my sense of duty
to our citizens will be passed on to our criminal justice students, who are, in fact, the future of the criminal justice system.
Department of Justice, UCR Crime statistics 2013, published
6-17-2013, retrieved from, https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/clearances,
retrieved on 4-2-16.
Al Fernandez is a faculty member at Kaplan University.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not
represent the view of Kaplan University.
Local, state, and federal law
enforcement jobs may require additional training or education beyond
the associate’s level. You should fully research the requirements
of any such position you intend to seek.
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