Written by Eddie Hughes, Fresno State Magazine Senior Editor

Anamarie Serrano remembers her first time in a patrol car. She was 6 years old and crying. It was the worst day of her life.

She sat in the front seat next to her brother as an officer showed them all the buttons and how to turn on the flashing lights. It was the best distraction he could think of to ease the children’s minds while other officers were inside their Stockton home arresting their father after a domestic dispute with their mother.

Seventeen years later, Serrano has been in a patrol car hundreds of times. Now, she sits behind the wheel, firearm on her hip and badge adorning the shirt of her uniform. She doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve — she wears the emblem of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Many officers say they were attracted to law enforcement by a desire to keep their communities safer, clean up the streets or put criminals away. Deputy Sheriff Serrano was inspired by something more personal — her own childhood.

“The way I see it, when we get a call for service, we’re not getting a call from someone who’s having the best day of their life,” Serrano says. “They’re calling us to solve their problems. For me, it’s not cleaning up the streets, it’s cleaning up someone’s life.”

Now 22 years old, Serrano is one of the youngest solo officers on the beat. She graduated from Fresno State in May 2018 after completing the Criminology 108 program, a University partnership with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office that provides police training and on-the-job experience while students are pursuing their bachelor’s degrees.

On a rainy March ride-along during her overnight patrol shift covering much of Fresno and parts of Clovis, Serrano opened up about the challenges she faced as a youngster — but not without a little prodding.

She started with the day her life changed, in 2002, after the domestic dispute. Her father was deported to Mexico, she says, leaving her mother alone to care for Serrano and her three siblings. But by 2004, with her mother battling addiction, Serrano says she and her siblings entered the foster care system. She recalls being placed in 10 foster homes and starting to fall behind in school. But by age 8, she was placed in a permanent foster home and started to thrive.

“Being a kid, you’re constantly changing environments when you’re within foster care,” Serrano says, “so you can sink to whatever level, versus deciding that you want to do something better for yourself. It all comes down to circumstance and who you want to be, and I learned that early on.”

Perhaps that mentality is what got Serrano through her toughest days training to be an officer. Read the whole story here.