Officer Graciela Torres
Graduated from the Academy in 2003
1. When did you first think about becoming a CHP officer? Include family, friends,
school presentations, local or world events, etc. that may have influenced you.
Becoming a CHP officer had always been something I had aspired to as a child. Although, I didn't have any family members who were prior law enforcement, I knew that it was the kind of career I wanted to achieve. I also think the CHiPs television show had some influence!
One of the most memorable experiences I can recall was in my freshman year in college. For the first time, I was driving home to the Central Valley from college in the Bay Area when I started to experience car problems on I-5 S/B, north or south of somewhere. I really only knew I was on I-5, as I was not fully familiar with my route yet. I recalled a rest stop, but was not sure how far or near I was. And although I had called my parents before I left to let them know I was on my way home, my car had a much different idea. As I pulled over, I started to think of the many things to do in order to get assistance. Needless to say, I felt completely helpless and inconclusive. I think I must have sat there for what seemed to be hours wishing I had a phone. It started to be dusk and colder when a CHP patrol car pulled in behind me. I was both relieved and intimidated at the same time. This extremely tall, pristine-looking, officer in a dark navy jacket and a shiny badge walked up to the passenger side and asked if I needed help. Even under the circumstances, I felt like he had more important things to do than to help me. As I reluctantly answered yes, I was so appreciative that someone had taken the time to stop.
The officer, whose name I never got, and am still very grateful for, politely advised me that he could give me a ride to the nearest location where I could call someone to come help me. I gathered my immediate belongings and sat in the warm front passenger seat. For the first time, I knew what it was like to be inside a CHP patrol car. He spoke into the radio briefly and we were on our way. I wondered what it would to be like to be in the driver seat, then I came back to reality, realizing I was the one stranded on the side of the freeway. I couldn't help but think what if I were the one who had stopped to help him. A little while later, I realized that I was near Santa Nella, CA, as he drove up to the Denny's Restaurant that was right off the freeway and dropped me off. The officer never really spoke much, but did in fact make me feel a sense of security. That experience was priceless.
2. What obstacles did you encounter during your efforts to become an officer?
During my sophomore year in college, I applied for CHP. Although my application was accepted, unfortunately, I did not pass the written test. I entrusted in myself that the real reason why I had not passed was because college was the priority. Years later I was accepted to the CHP Academy in August, 2002, but I was injured at Week 11 during the wrestling exercise. I was devastated knowing I had to restart the following year, but I was determined to finish. I restarted in May 2003 and graduated in September 2003.
3. Describe what you were like in high school. Activities, sports, interests, etc.
If you went on to college, describe your college life.
I was the second of seven children to attend high school and the first of three to graduate from college. As a child, I grew up in a humble environment where I was provided the basic necessities and a grace for appreciating what my parents worked so hard for.
My parents were migrants from Mexico, with very little education, and a big heart to make a better future for their children. As I grew, I learned stern morals from a mother who was destined to ensure I would be self-sufficient and a father who always instilled in me that education would be the back bone to our family's future.
Initially, I attended Chowchilla High School for a semester while my parents finished building their very first home in Dos Palos, CA through a housing developmental program. I attended Dos Palos High School immediately thereafter, and graduated in 1992 with honors. And although I was dedicated to my studies, it was very difficult to convince my father to allow me to participate in sports during high school, as he believed that they would deter me from my education. Little did he realize, the determination he had instilled in my upbringing was paying off. The track and field coach had to personally ask my father for permission in order for me to participate. And so there I was inviting her over for dinner for a grueling interview! After many terms and conditions, and needless to say, breaking down of many traditional barriers, I joined the track and field team and later the cross country team where I collected a series of medals, but more so than anything, I found a passion for running. It seemed to me that it kept me grounded, never forgetting where I was coming from and where I was going.
During my sophomore or junior year, I noticed that my parents had difficulty making ends meet and I confronted my father respectively as to how I would be able to help the family. As much as I hated the thought, I suggested to him that I would drop out of high school to start working in order to help the family. My father was absolutely opposed to it and expressed that harder times were yet to come if I didn't graduate. He was right.
I was accepted to Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, CA where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Art in 1996. During those four years, I felt an even heavier responsibility to overcome any obstacles and to prove that my parent's efforts were not in vain. I did not declare a major until the end of my sophomore year. Unfortunately, Saint Mary's College did not offer studies in Criminology and had I transferred to another college at the time, it would have not been financially beneficial. Nonetheless, just when I thought graduating from high school was a big deal, a college degree gave me the forefront to new horizons. High school and college were both fundamental to where I stand today.
4. What jobs did you have before becoming an officer? You don't have to list them all,
but we would especially like to know the one, or ones, you had immediately before
going into the Academy.
Just before graduating from college, I secured a job in a sales position as an Assistant Manager in the Bay Area. Sometime after, I was ready to come back home. And in doing so, I began to think more seriously how to obtain a career in law enforcement. The childhood dream had awoken. As I moved back home, I applied with the Fresno County Probation Department. I started part-time with its Community Service Work Program (CSWP) where I developed strong fundamentals with the department, and was hired on full-time as a Correctional Officer. Eventually, I promoted into a supervisor position at Elkhorn Correctional Facility, a juvenile boot camp for at-risk youth. I worked for the Fresno County Probation Department for approximately four years when I was accepted to the CHP Academy.
5. How did your family, friends, or different groups of friends, react when you were in
the selection process and then became an officer? If it was a less than positive
reaction, how did you handle it?
I must admit, in some way I felt that I had prepared myself for a career with the California Highway Patrol through education. When I felt I had grown with my previous occupation to a position where I was ready to expand, I expressed this to my husband and he took it seriously. Knowing that I had tested once before, he did not hesitate and one day he approached me with a CHP application telling me that I should proceed with it, only this time I would make it all the way to an officer position. My friends and family were supportive of my decision, a bit in disbelief of the fact that it would be an employment through the California Highway Patrol as an officer, but I'm sure they're glad we're still friends. I think my parents were the most worried because I would be carrying a gun, and well, Hispanic women and guns were not, in their opinion, the ideal career. Even after having left the nest, graduated from college, stepped into marital vows, bought a house, and had a good job with Fresno County Probation, they still thought their child had grown up too fast. I might add, however, at the CHP Academy graduation day they were the proudest of them all. In my opinion, it was yet another broken barrier.
6. What words of wisdom, if any, did you receive about becoming an officer?
I think the best reference I obtained was the CHP application itself. All the information included in the packet was relatively informative (today that information can be found on the CHP web site). I was fortunate enough to go on a ride-along and participate in a graduation where I was truly inspired.
7. What are some of the interesting things you've done on the job (or off) while on the
After my injury in my first academy class, I was offered a position at Fresno Area dispatch while I recovered. I certainly had a true sense and appreciation for their job. I graduated in September 2003 where I was awarded the Female Athlete Award. My first assignment was in the CHP San Jose Area office where I was at for two years. I then transferred into CHP Fresno Area office into a bilingual position. In addition to my duties there, I also had the privilege to partake in undercover work with the State of California Insurance Fraud Unit where several suspects were faced and convicted of insurance fraud charges due to bad business practices.
In April 2009, I transferred into the Special Projects Unit, Traffic Management Center as a Spanish Media Information Officer out of Central Division. I am currently assigned to the SAFE Unit, the El Protector - Hispanic Community Outreach Program. This program places special emphasis on education through dialogue with the Hispanic community and serves as a role model as a traffic safety educator alongside two other officers who are assigned to the Southern, Northern, and Central sectors. Ironically, as a migrant child I remember advertisements about this program and the positive movement it caused. I remember thinking what it would be like to represent such a program.
In 2010, I decided to also fulfill my passion for running. For many years I had run for pleasure and health reasons, of course; not to mention the Academy! Only this time, I would embark on an insane journey to train for a full marathon. Yes, 26.2 miles! I trained for almost a year and broke into my crazy notion by first running a half-marathon. I was hooked. I have since run five more half-marathons and on the CHP Women's Baker to Vegas 2012 Team. My full marathon, which appeared to be a near death experience and a month of recovery, definitely acknowledged this motto: If you want to run, run a mile, If you want to experience another life, run a marathon! All of my runs have been quite a unique experience to say the least. It's incredible how all that running as a child, has indeed also paid off. Hopefully someday, when I get the “crazy running bug,” I will once again, run another full marathon. For now, I'm only half crazy!
8. What words of wisdom (or encouragement) would you like to pass on to possible
I've had several people ask me about my career with the California Highway Patrol. I can never reiterate how joining the CHP has been the best decision I have made. It definitely took a lot of time and dedication to accomplish my goal, but it was well worth it. I've expressed how I came from humble roots, and through my education, I was better prepared for who I am today and what I have accomplished. I cannot help but wonder what difference there would have been had I started the CHP when I first applied, but interestingly things happened for a reason. This I definitely share with those who are curious as to what direction to take. In my opinion, you can never be wrong in obtaining a higher education since it is so fundamental, but the CHP is a career like no other. There are so many options available once you are hired. Perhaps not everyone has endured the experience such as mine of a once migrant child, whose first language was Spanish, and at the early age of twelve I began to work in farm labor, but I certainly can say that all the morals and values to succeed were conducive to their outcome. I remember my parents telling me that I had a choice of either staying in school or working in farm labor for the rest of my life. It was an obvious choice. If an applicant has no relation to my experience, there is always the encouragement of how to better prepare physically and to never give up. It's all in your attitude and how you make ground breaking decisions based on who you were and who you will become as a California Highway Patrol officer.
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