Eileen Cortez definitely didn’t have a police career in mind when she was growing up in Nassau County.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where there was crime, around drugs and gangs, so for me, whenever I saw the police presence, it was for something negative. It was never anything positive. I had no interest in becoming a police officer, not at all,” she said.
The young Mexican-American woman thought about becoming a dentist. Then, while in high school, she crossed paths with the Nassau Police Explorers, who talked about their activities, including their travel around the area to different events. The chance to get out and see more appealed to her.
“The Nassau Police Explorers…it just changed my whole perspective on law enforcement. Where I grew up it was only police officers who were Caucasian. I didn’t think I would fit in being Mexican. But when I got to Police Explorers, I saw officers of all types of backgrounds and that’s when I started to see that I might want to do that, become a police officer,” she said.
After high school, she joined the Army, where she continues to serve in a Reserve quartermaster corps and earned an associate’s degree.
She began the long application process to join the Suffolk police department in 2019, taking the test, winning a chance to continue the process, passing a physical agility test, background checks, and Spanish language fluency test and awaiting her opportuntiy. She started at the academy in 2022, graduating in April.
Fresh out of the academy, Officer Cortez joined the Second Precinct. At age 25, she handles regular police duties in the precinct that she finds welcoming and appreciative of her Spanish language skills.
She aspires to eventually become a detective and work on the investigative side of fighting crime, but meantime is enjoying her work handling the duties of a rookie officer.
“I use my Spanish daily on patrol,” she said, “I know how my parents would feel when they couldn’t speak English. If someone came and spoke Spanish, you would see a different look on their faces. You just feel more relaxed about things.”
She said she has been able to work with other officers and make them more comfortable when she goes out on calls and encounters Spanish speakers. “I close a bridge, a little gap.I feel very welcome here,” she said.