By Aleeza Zinn
Emilia Mrak recently replaced Alameda High School’s four year, on-campus police officer, Mike Gandara. While Mrak is new to the position, called the school resource officer (SRO), she is already enjoying the job and thriving in AHS’s atmosphere.
Mrak acknowledged that many people in law enforcement have dreamt of such a career their entire lives, but this was not the case for her. Mrak began her career in law as an assistant District Attorney investigator in San Francisco. Her initial goal was to become a “full time, sworn DA investigator,” however, a colleague and former Oakland police officer convinced her otherwise.
“‘You need to be a police officer, you have to,’” said Mrak, paraphrasing her colleague and mentor. Mrak was ambivalent at first, but her colleague harped on her for five years until she finally gave in.
In order to be a police officer, Mrak had to qualify for the basic requirements, ie. being at least 21 years of age, having a high school diploma and preferably having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
The second piece of the screening process is physical. The test includes running, agility and because Alameda is an island, a swim test. The third requirement is a series of paper tests. There is a written component and a multiple choice test, with the majority of the test being situational questions. The written portion includes watching a crime video reenactment and then writing out the scenario.
Once the written and physical tests are finished, the trainees are questioned at an oral board. The final piece of the screening process is a lie detector test and psychological screening. “You must have the psych makeup to be a police officer,” said Mrak.
Police officers undergo further psychological screening if an officer decides to join the Special Weapons And Tactics team (SWAT) or if an officer is involved in a “critical situation,” said Mrak. For example, if an officer is involved in a shooting, then the police department has the ability to reevaluate the officer to ensure they are “mentally fit.”
Mrak states that not everyone has the “psych makeup” to be a police officer, due to a variety of issues, such as aggression problems. One needs a strong moral character, a clear understanding of oneself and “have confidence,” said Mrak.
It may be difficult as a rookie officer to have confidence, but “as you progress in training and deal with different situations, you become more confident in your abilities,” said Mrak.
Mrak has had considerable experience on the police force. June 2017 will be her 15th year as a police officer. Mrak has heard great things about the school police officer position and wanted “the job that everybody loves, that people say is the most rewarding.”
Before applying for the new position, Mrak spoke with officers who have held this position, including the retired police chief Mike Noonan, who started the program in 1992. Noonan has been a police officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and a chief. “He had every single rank within the department and he said that his career high was when he was here,” said Mrak, speaking of Noonan.
Officer Mrak met with the officer Gandara as well and asked if he enjoyed working at AHS. “I love it,” said Mrak, paraphrasing Gandara, “It’s the best job in the department.”
“Once I decided that I wanted to do [this job], I did everything I could to try and get it and get here. It can be rewarding and it’s a positive thing to do,” said Mrak.
In order for Officer Mrak to be hired as the school police officer, she had to apply for the position as a specialized assignment.
There are a number of specialized assignments, such as homicide detective, k-9 officer, motorcycle police officer, or a school officer. In order to qualify for the positions, “you have to submit your memo,” and list the reasons as to why you believe you would be a qualified candidate, explained Mrak. Once your memo is approved, then you go in front of another oral board and the panel asks you a series of situational questions.
Every six months, officers “get like a report card,” said Mrak. The sergeant evaluates officers based on the number of tickets they give out, the quality of reports they take and if they have generated any citizen complaints.
Officers’ memos, score on the oral board and score on the “report card” evaluations are totaled, and then the officers are ranked. “People are ranked in the order of their performance and then the chief can pick any one of the top three,” said Mrak.
Now in the position, Mrak feels “like a freshman” and is “trying to figure it all out.” The school based police officer position is “completely different than being on patrol,” explained Mrak. As a patrol officer, the primary duties include traffic enforcement or response to service calls. “You’re there when someone needs a police officer,” said Mrak, meaning that whatever the situation may be, it is “generated from negativity.”
After working with numerous negative events, “you get little bit jaded, whether you want to or not,” admitted Mrak. According to Mrak, the most important responsibility for those with a career in law enforcement is the ability to be sympathetic and empathetic and the ability to relate to people. While Mrak has seen her fair share of negative events, she “can’t show up and say, ‘oh, what is it now?’ That situation is unique for that particular person. It may be something I’ve seen a few times, but for them, they’re going through it.”
At AHS, however, Mrak is able to be sympathetic, empathetic and interact with situations in a positive way, versus a “reactive way.”