CORPUS CHRISTI -- Public service is in Amanda Penny's blood.
The 19-year-old's father is a former Corpus Christi police officer, her mother works as an EMT in Aransas County, and she's been a member of the Police Explorer Academy almost five years.
Now she's one step closer to her dream of becoming a police officer by working as an intern in the delayed entry cadet program.
Overseen by Cmdr. Heidi Frese and spearheaded by Chief Floyd Simpson, Penny is paid to work in various divisions part-time while she completes her associate degree in criminal justice at Del Mar College.
Her tuition and books are sponsored by the Corpus Christi Police Athletic League.
The advantage? Learning the ins and outs of the department before she enrolls in the police academy.
Graduating cadets must be at least 21 to join the force, and Penny plans to apply when she's 20 1/2 she said.
Penny said she's honored to be the first person in the cadet program and wants to become a member of the gang unit.
"My two older brothers in Dallas are in a gang, and I've seen how it's affecting them," Penny said. "I know where they could be right now, but they just picked up the gang life, and they've ruined everything they have for them. That's why if I can get through to one person, it makes me feel better."
Frese said Penny has shown passion and determination that will serve her well on the force.
"Regardless of her age, where she went to school and her ethnicity, she was by far the best candidate," Frese said. "A large committee discussed prospects, and she stood out. We needed to make sure we selected someone who was primed and ready. This is a big commitment, and she wants it so badly."
Sgt. David Morris, who oversees the league, said funding the scholarship was an easy decision.
"When Cmdr. Frese approached us about it, the CC-PAL board was all over it," Morris said. "It's been a long-term goal of ours to establish a scholarship program, and this is a huge opportunity for us to do that."
Morris said supporting the cadet program was possible because of the success of the league's third annual Dove Hunt, sponsored by the Valero Bill Greehey Refinery.
Simpson said the cadet program mirrors the Rising Star Program in Dallas, which partnered with high schools and community colleges to form a police officer recruit curriculum. The program targeted students who lived in high risk areas but collapsed because of lack of funding, Simpson said.
Rising Star aimed to increase diversity to the application pool because there were few female Hispanic officers, Simpson said. The Corpus Christi police force is in a similar situation.
"I don't have a single African-American female in this department, and I'm working hard to change that," Simpson said. "Miss Penny, being the first through this program, has the weight of the world on her shoulders. But she's young and has experience as an explorer. She's very worthy of becoming a police officer already."
In May the Department of Justice determined the city's hiring process was discriminatory toward women.
In response, Simpson hired a recruiter to reach out to local colleges, military organizations and candidates nationwide. Physical tests were changed so that an average person in good health could gain entry. Trainers then worked with cadets to develop them into officers with above-average strength, agility and speed.
In August, 11 female cadets graduated from the academy, the highest number in the department's history.
Penny said she feels the pressure, being the only African-American woman and the first through the new cadet program.
"They've given me this wonderful job, and I am so happy that I got it because I honestly don't know where I'd be right now without this opportunity. I probably wouldn't be in school. I'd still be working a minimum wage job; I am so grateful for everything Cmdr. Frese and Chief Simpson have done for me."
Penny said Frese, who is the highest ranking woman in the Police Department, is her role model. Frese has been Penny's mentor since she became an explorer, she said.
"She's the type of person who has taken in explorers who have lost everything and cared for them," Penny said. "Behind the badge and the gun, she's an amazing person."
Frese said Penny will get an overview of the department, and once she has a solid grasp of how divisions work, she'll be assigned to 911 communications or the telephone reporting unit.
"Both are good exposure for a candidate entering police work," Frese said. "Usually it happens the other way around, with assumptions being made about how things are done internally. People in this program will see how it works from the inside out and how it all interrelates, which is very important."
Frese said she wants to expand the program, similar to a dual credit program in high schools and community colleges. She's also reaching out to private businesses to help sponsor more candidates.
Simpson said he wants the program to help him recruit the best.
"We need not just diversity in skin color, but in background, thought process and in experiences," Simpson said. "That's what we need if we're going to be a strong department."
Original headline: Corpus Christi police's Delayed Entry Cadet Program aims to bring more diversity to force
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