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Police academy hopefuls face battery of drills

August 13, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — "All the way! All the way! Go, go, go!" shouted Calexico police Officer Mike Christian.

A Heber man drenched in sweat leapt from a starting crouch and dashed toward a 6-foot chain-link fence at the officer's exhortation.

The man, Jesus "Jay" Sandoval, planted his right cross-trainer in a fence, grabbed the hot railing and threw his left leg over.

The rest of his body followed his leg and he landed on the grass on the other side with an audible "Uhh!"


After clearing the fence he sprinted 25 yards to where Calexico police Sgt. Jim Neujahr was standing with a stopwatch.

"8.0.," Neujahr said.

"Way to go!" Christian shouted.

Sandoval's time of 8 seconds was good enough to pass the chain-link fence climb test.

When he heard the time his shoulders relaxed, he exhaled deeply and walked slowly toward his water bottle.

The climb was the last of five agility tests Sandoval and 15 other people completed on a sweltering Saturday morning at Calexico High School's Ward Field.

The battery of tests was designed by the Calexico Police Department to determine which of the 16 applicants are qualified to become Calexico police officers.

Neujahr said the department will send four of the 16 to the Riverside Police Academy, with the department picking up the tab.

When the four complete their six months at the academy, they will return to Calexico and bolster an understaffed department.

Neujahr said the department received more than 46 applications for the academy scholarships. Twenty-seven people took the written test and 18 passed.

Of the 18, 16 people, 13 men and three women, completed the physical tests Saturday.

The applicants who passed the physical tests will be interviewed in the near future.

The department will look at the combination of the physical and written test scores, interviews and run background checks on the most qualified.

Four will be selected for the academy.

Sandoval works for the department as a dispatcher but said he has always wanted to be a police officer.

To become one he completed the fence climb, ran a 500-yard dash, scrambled over a solid wooden fence, dragged a 165-pound dummy 32 feet and zigged through a 99-yard obstacle course.

After Sandoval and the rest of the applicants finished the fence climb they milled around waiting for Neujahr to tally the scores.

The timed scores were converted to points with statistical charts. If the applicant piled up more than 336 points, they passed.

Sandoval, his shirt drenched and his hair matted, sat in the shade drinking water and waiting for the results.

Another applicant, Evangelist Pittman of San Diego, sat near Sandoval, but unlike the Valley native he is not accustomed to the local August weather.

When asked what test was most difficult, Pittman said, "The heat."

Pittman is trying to land a job with the Calexico police because his wife is an Imperial Valley native and she wants to return here to teach.

As for why he wants to become a police officer, "In my neighborhood (southeast San Diego) there was a lot of gangs and drugs. I wanted to provide a positive role model to the community instead."

Doesn't he really want to become a police officer so he can drive around in a car loaded with gadgets, guns and flashing lights?

Pittman laughed, "Well, if it (the cruiser) has A/C, yeah, I guess."

While Pittman relaxed in the shade chatting with some of the guys, other applicants broke off into small groups.

One of the clusters featured the three female applicants and some of the at-risk-of-not-passing guys. They discussed among themselves how to make up points in various tests.

The women and men who were not able to complete the solid fence climb or the chain-link fence climb were given zeroes and had only one chance to run a specific test again.

As they talked about the upcoming second round they feared they would need, Julio Diaz stood by himself next to the chain-link fence near the Ward Field bleachers waiting for his score.

Diaz, an El Centro resident and Imperial native, said he wants to become a police officer for his 6-year-old son.

He applied in Calexico because El Centro and Imperial weren't hiring.

"They were the only department that said they would send some people to the academy," Diaz said.

If he gets selected for the academy and finishes, he would be the first police officer in his family. He hopes to start a tradition if his son follows in his footsteps one day.

Diaz was confident he did well on the tests. He clocked one of the fastest times of the group on the 99-yard obstacle course. When Neujahr handed out orange cards with the applicants' final scores, Diaz scored more than 100 points more than he needed.

Next up for Diaz, Pittman, Sandoval and nine others is the oral interview.

Diaz is confident about passing that phase as well.

"I'll be back around town in a few months," he said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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