Lt. Joey Mercado retired from the Turlock Police Department this week, bringing an end to a career in law enforcement that spanned more than two decades.
"I will miss working and being around the dedicated people at Turlock PD and Fire," Mercado said. "The police officers, detectives, dispatchers, as well as firemen and all the support staff — they all sacrifice themselves every minute of the day they are on the job to keep the community safe, especially during these challenging times. The Turlock community is so lucky to have dedicated, hardworking people. I only ask that the Turlock community continue to support them. I am going to reap the benefits of my life work in Turlock and enjoy the protection that Turlock PD and Fire provides in keeping our community and especially me, as a civilian, safe."
Mercado's interest in law enforcement was spurred by his father, who retired as a police sergeant from the Metro Manila Police Department.
"He had a strong work ethic, strict disciplinarian and a strong desire to help others," Mercado said. "I admired him for his tenacity and determination."
Mercado and his family moved from the Philippines when he was 10 years old and started a new life in America.
"I left my home country and was told by my parents to never look back and create a new life for ourselves," Mercado said. "I did not speak a word of English but soon had to learn to assimilate into the American culture. It was not easy, as back in those days, 'bullying' was not even a common term. Despite the language barrier I quickly learned that education was my key to living a successful life."
He also realized he really enjoyed helping other people and decided to pursue a degree in psychology while studying at UC Davis. He was putting that degree to use by working with at-risk youth, when his eye was turned toward a career in law enforcement.
"I first worked as a counselor in a group home for severely emotionally disturbed kids," Mercado said. "After doing that job for approximately five years, I saw the majority of the kids I worked with lacked male role models in their lives. It was what made me want to become a police officer. In 1993, I went on a ride along. I quickly realized becoming a police officer was a career I could get into. I saw that police officers were looked up to as role models, they help people, and I can use my college degree to do just that."
During his time with the police department, Mercado worked as a K9 handler, a SWAT member, a bicycle officer, a use of force instructor and a gang unit officer. He started a program that sought to decrease the resources used in making arrests of habitual offenders, particularly those in the homeless community, by helping them get into and complete treatment programs.
"I learned early on in my career that I will always come across 'bad' people,” Mercado said. "I applied the laws to deal with them appropriately. I made it a daily habit to seek good people and held firm to the belief that the world is full of more good people than bad people. The most enjoyment I got from being a police officer was bringing smiles to people and helping those in need."
"Joey will leave an everlasting impact on our department and our community," said Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar. "He is the one that started our outreach program years ago. Back then it was individuals who were habitually being arrested for public intoxication. Joey’s programs in regards to habitual offenders back in the early 2000s and our current CARE team is his legacy. He was ahead of his time regarding forward thinking in how we approached drug and alcohol offenders and their addiction. His programs expanded to include those suffering from mental illness. I will miss his positive take on situations which at times felt overwhelming. However, most of all I will miss him."
While he was achieving success in his career, life was about to throw Mercado a curveball.
"My goal when I started law enforcement was to find that perfect work/life balance," Mercado said. "I failed. I placed work first, family second, God last. I did everything I could do to survive the streets as a police officer. I ate right, did not smoke, drank moderately, exercised, and I did not eat a lot of donuts. I lived and breathed Turlock Police Department until one day I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2014 — of all cancers, breast cancer. I had no idea men can get breast cancer. I did not realize my biggest enemy was inside me all along. I beat it. Early detection and running saved my life.
"I realized that life is short and I could have easily died, just like that," Mercado said. "I became more committed to smiling and used my lieutenant badge to bring joy to the people I worked with. I focused on the positives and not the things I did not have or wanted. I did my best to have the new officers see that. I wished I had retired sooner as in the last year, I lost both parents to cancers nine months apart. Now I am retired, I have the time to spend with them, but it was too late."
Mercado plans on keeping that focus on the positive mentality going into his retirement and whatever it may hold.
"I had a blessed career with lots of ups and downs, disappointments and joy in the end," he said. "I am going to decompress, travel soon and adjust to civilian life. I intend to have extended visits with friends, family and enjoy doing what I want when I want for now."