Justin Clemons


She’s a Rookie Cop. And She’s 44.

As the Dallas Police Department struggles to recruit, some heroes still answer the call.

About a decade ago, when Mireya Espinoza was 34 years old, she decided she wanted to be a cop. Aside from a short stint as a substitute teacher, she’d been a stay-at-home mom, raising three kids. But having grown up in Oak Cliff—she attended Sunset High School—Espinoza felt a calling to serve her community. Her then boyfriend, though, wouldn’t have it.

“You just have to learn how to keep it at work and not take it home with you.” For the most part, she says, “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Now Espinoza is single and working the deep nights shift, patrolling the streets of the Dallas Police Department’s North Central Division. In June, when she graduated from the Basic Training Academy, she was the eldest female rookie of class No. 358, which sent 31 new cops to the department. Espinoza’s shift ends at 7 am, and, at least for this summer, she gets home to her kids just as they are waking up. Her eldest is 19 years old and in the Marine reserves. Her youngest is 13. They always have questions about what Mom did at work.

Three weeks into her new job, Espinoza saw the aftermath of a homicide, her first. “You just have to learn how to keep it at work and not take it home with you.” For the most part, she says, “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

The eldest rookie in her class, Lewis Young, is a few months older than Espinoza. He did 25 years in the Marines before signing up with DPD. Three weeks in, working a day shift at North Central, he had a different appraisal. “I’ve seen the worst of humanity in third-world countries all over the globe,” he says. “I hate to say it, but it’s the same stuff, different country. It’s been eye-opening.”

Ray Milbern retired in May after 27 years with DPD. He spent many of those working in recruitment. He and others say that ours is one of the best academies in the country. And that makes recruiting tough. Basic training lasts nine months (longer than many other academies), even for applicants who are already peace officers. Only about 10 percent of the people who apply get a badge. The feds poach Dallas cops. So do other North Texas police departments. Then there’s the lower pay in Dallas and the recent well-publicized woes of the pension system.

But it’s like Epinoza told her kids when she signed up. “This is Mommy’s time,” she said. “She has to do this.”