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New chief no stranger to challenges

city-of-la-joyaAt 39, Geovani Hernandez has worked for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, served on international missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Haiti and worked with mental health patients at Tropical Texas Behavioral Center.

His next challenge began this week when he started work as the new city of La Joya police chief Monday.

Out of eight applicants for the job, La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas said Hernandez’s experience is just what the city needs. The fact that the new chief has a master’s degree and is working on a Ph.D in psychology helped as well, the mayor said.

“He has worked with young kids in the tropical center, and maybe my heart is toward him because I was a high school principal, and I think our youth in La Joya need a lot of good direction, and I think that he’s the man to do it,” Salinas said.

“You’re going to see, I can be almost certain right now, that he will make a difference in the city of La Joya with the youth and taking away drugs from these young kids.”

For his part, Hernandez said his biggest mission is to address the high flow of trafficking through the area without disturbing local residents.

“We need to avoid profiling people. We need to avoid targeting people. We need to avoid officers pulling over people just for no reason,” he said. “There were complaints in the past, like any police department. This is one of the areas that is very sensitive. It’s a high drug intensity area, so we’ve got a lot of people going through here, and the city actually hired me to try and balance it out.

Hernandez started his law enforcement career at the age of 21, working as a detention officer for the county. He then moved to the Alamo Police Department, got married and had children, so he moved to the Pharr Police Department, which had more benefits and a higher salary.

And in 2003, Hernandez signed up with the Department of State for police training with the United Nations International Police Task Force in Eastern Europe. He served about five years in Kosovo before coming back to the States. But after two months, he went to Afghanistan, and later he went to Haiti.

When he came back, he trained with Border Patrol for a year and left because he didn’t meet some criteria.

“I didn’t like it anyway,” Hernandez joked. “In Border Patrol, you can show up for the morning tired and you get dismissed. You get two tardies and get dismissed. You look too old, even if you passed the tests, you get dismissed.”

And in 2012, Hernandez took on what he said was the biggest challenge he’d faced so far: a run for Hidalgo County sheriff. He said there are some things he wanted to fix on the border, and though he knew he wouldn’t win, he wanted to try.

Through all of his work, Hernandez has earned a bachelor’s degree, gathering credits from multiple universities, and a master’s degree in psychology from Capella University. He’s now readying to work on his dissertation for a Ph.D. in psychology from Capella University.

“I wanted to understand why people act in certain ways–what pushes a person to do certain things,” he said of his interest in psychology.

In his spare time, the new chief studies hypnosis, and he joked maybe that would help him in his new role.

“It’s hard because you have to reshape their (officers’) mentality, so I have to bring all the officers here in the morning, hypnotize them and them tell them to go out there and do traffic stops,” Hernandez said laughingly.

“They need a police chief with a positive attitude to communicate with the officers. I want them to learn because I don’t know how long I’ll be here.”

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