For a career in law enforcement, the Garden Grove Police Cadet Program is a good place to start

By Lou Ponsi

Capt. Tom DaRe, Capt. Ed Leiva, Lt. Carl Whitney, Officer Hector Ferreira, and Officer Austin Laverty have something in common.

Before they become sworn officers for Garden Grove Police Department, they were police cadets with the agency.

They are not the only ones. More than two dozen members of GGPD started as cadets.

The consensus is that serving as a cadet was an ideal way to kickstart their careers in law enforcement and make the jump to becoming a sworn officer more seamless.

They are readying themselves for a future in law enforcement, whether in a sworn or civilian position.

Garden Grove Police Cadets Isaac Davila, left, and Francisco Avalos talk about their desire to become sworn police officers and how GGPD’s cadet program is helping them reach that goal.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Cadets are typically assigned to a unit in the agency, where they will work hands on for about six months and then rotate to another unit.

They might move from gangs to property and evidence to the front desk to investigations.

“It’s pretty nice because you get indoctrinated into the organization,” Lt. Whitney said. “You’re 20 years old and you get to help out police officers. You get to see everything. It was a great time. I made great friendships. A lot of us are police officers now and we continue to have those friendships.”

GGPD currently has five cadets but would like to bump the number up to 14, Cpl. Charles Starnes said. The agency recently held a recruitment and had 22 applicants.

Cadets need to be at least a senior in high school or in college maintaining 12 units.

Ideally, GGPD utilizes the police cadet position as a resource pool from which full-time positions may be filled.

“It does help to become a cadet because you get involved in the field and then it helps us too because we look at these guys and their work ethic,” Starnes said.

For anyone considering a career in law enforcement, serving as a cadet is also an excellent way to gauge whether you’ll like it.

Cpt. Leiva had considered a career in law enforcement but wasn’t completely convinced until he served as a cadet in 1993.

“You start doing ride alongs and being exposed to law enforcement and the excitement of it,” Leiva said. “You realize it is an exciting job. I realized this is where I wanted to go. It was an eye opener. You see a lot as a young kid, even as a cadet.”

Officer Laverty has been a GGPD officer for four years and was a cadet for two years before that.

As a cadet, Laverty worked in gangs, at the front desk, and in traffic.

“I would say within the first few months, I knew this is what I wanted to do and this was the agency I wanted to work for,” Laverty said.

Isaac Davila, 21, has been a GGPD cadet for 19 months and recently applied for a recruit position.

Witnessing a gang sweep in a neighborhood where he grew up sparked Davila’s interest in law enforcement.

“I was able to see how just a few men in blue were able to change the atmosphere,” Davilla said. “It just gave me the passion for that.”

“I like the sense of mentorship. A lot of the officers are willing to help out and mentor you and push you in the right steps so you can be successful in this field,” he said.

Garden Grove Police Officers Austin Laverty, left, and Hector Ferreira talk about their experiences in GGPD’s cadet program that helped them become officers, with Cadets Isaac Davila and Francisco Avalos, right, next to them.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Francisco Avalos, 19, of Garden Grove is GGPD’s newest cadet, on the job for nine months.

Avalos started out as an Explorer because of a general interest in law enforcement.

As an Explorer, the interest became a passion.

Once he turned 18 and became a senior in high school, Avalos applied for a cadet position. Now nine months in, Avalos plans to apply to the police academy in October.

“Now it’s a lot of eagerness to want to go the academy and do more,” Avalos said. “There is a different kind of feeling around here. It is not a typical work environment. It’s guys you see day in and day out and they are not just coworkers. They are almost brothers to you.”

With nearly 170 sworn officers, GGPD offers numerous opportunities for cadets who want to spend their careers within the agency, Starnes aid.

They also offer something else.

“The family that we have here,” Starnes said. “The majority of these guys who are Explorers who become cadets and officers, that is why they stay here. They don’t leave because they know it’s a good family.”

For information on GGPD’s cadet program, visit www.ci.garden-grove.ca.us/police/cadets.