Ever since he can remember, Jose Gutierrez has had one dream: to become a police officer in his hometown of Willimantic.
Gutierrez said he was first drawn in when he was in elementary school and would meet officers at events or see the police cruiser drive by his neighborhood. From there, he wanted to learn more.
When he was in high school he joined the Willimantic Police Department's Citizens Academy.
“That right there got me more motivated and got me to just keep following the dream that I had," said Gutierrez.
His dream to become a police officer and serve his community remained a constant for Gutierrez growing up, despite one major challenge.
“Thinking that any given moment I could be sent back to my home country," said Gutierrez. "It was kind of living behind closed curtains and in fear.”
While he spent most of his life in Willimantic and considers it home, Gutierrez was born in Mexico. His parents moved to the U.S. before his second birthday. Gutierrez said he grew up with the fear that he and his family would be deported.
In 2016, Gutierrez was accepted into a program that helped him feel a little bit safer. He became a DACA recipient.
U.S. & World
DACA, deferred action for childhood arrivals, is a federal program that protects more than 600,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as children. The program allows DACA recipients, also called "dreamers," to work and study without having to worry about being deported.
"I felt a little bit more safe and secure," said Gutierrez. "I am grateful for having the opportunity to become a DACA recipient."
The program helped him get one step closer to becoming a police officer one day.
"Whatever obstacle course I have to go through, I am going to do it and not lose any hope or faith," said Gutierrez.
In the fall of 2020 he went to an open house for the Willimantic Police Department and met Chief Paul Hussey.
"He took the physical fitness test, we gave him an interview, we always try to hire applicants that reflect the community and he is a perfect example of the community," said Hussey. "He is bilingual, he is smart, he has great character, exceptional morals."
Hussey said that Gutierrez was an exceptional candidate for the job. There was just one problem. In order to become a police officer in Connecticut, you have to be a U.S. citizen. Gutierrez's DACA status protects him from deportation, but it does not provide him a path to citizenship.
"Well that's not fair. He can fight for our country on our side and carry a weapon and actually take a bullet and yet he can't be a police officer and serve his community and this was a kid passionate about his community," said Hussey.
From there, Hussey reached out to the POST Council, the group responsible for overseeing police officer standards and training for the state. The council, the chief, and other state leaders reviewed various rules and consulted lawyers.
“We had to get a legal opinion and we go through regulations and rules, but ultimately it is the right thing to do," said James Rovella, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP). "Everyone said he is going to make a great police officer."
Rovella said the biggest challenge was making sure that Gutierrez would be able to legally carry a firearm.
"That's what our legal folks had to figure out and they found that he could carry a gun while he was working which really opened up the door wide open for him to be a police officer in the state of Connecticut."
Gutierrez was accepted into the police academy and excelled at several months of training. He graduated last week, becoming the first DACA recipient in the state to become a police officer.
“I was in shock. I was happy. Just so much emotion running through," said Gutierrez. "There was a time when we didn't think it would happen, but we kept on fighting."
DACA does not give Gutierrez a path to citizenship, but he is able to apply for renewal. He said that he takes it day by day. His focus right now is the new job, serving his community and completing his field training.
"I want to give back to the community that I grew up in," said Gutierrez.
He says he is a dreamer whose dream came true and he hopes that sends a message to other young DACA recipients.
"Just keep pushing forward and just keep following your dreams," said Gutierrez. "Don't lose faith or hope and it will happen."