The Riverside, Illinois, community is standing in support of a former police officer whose career prospects have been jeopardized due to a mistake from over a decade ago.
Former Cicero Police Officer Zenna Ramos openly acknowledged that she stole a $15 T-shirt back in 2008, during a time when she was facing an unsafe living situation with her young child. Although the charges were ultimately dismissed, the incident resurfaced as a barrier to her professional aspirations.
Ramos, now 37, has gone to great lengths to overcome her past actions, including pursuing education in criminal justice, working as a community service officer in Cicero and even serving as a police officer in the same department for a year. However, the incident came to light again when Ramos decided to transfer from the Cicero Police Department to the Riverside Police Department. The move led to her certification being blocked by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board over the incident, which could further prevent her from working as a police officer anywhere in the country.
According to Ramos’ attorney, the state certification authority argued that the misdemeanor charge could potentially undermine her credibility as a witness in court cases.
Riverside’s public safety director, Matthew Buckley, strongly defended Ramos at a news conference.
“Yes, she made a mistake in 2008, but what she has done since that day is the important part. That’s the kind of person I want working here in Riverside. Because in Riverside, we give second chances. We work with people,” Buckley said.
During the news conference, Ramos tearfully expressed her remorse and commitment to personal growth.
“I know I made a mistake. And I felt that I did everything right to better myself for myself and my family, so I could be a police officer, so I could help people who are dealing with circumstances that I’ve dealt with.”
Despite Ramos’ efforts to overcome her past, the training and standards board cited a “disqualifying misdemeanor” under Illinois state law as the basis for its decision. It pointed to the SAFE-T criminal justice law reform, asserting that applicants must be reviewed for any involvement in “any crime of moral turpitude.”
State Representative La Shawn Ford joined Riverside leaders in advocating for Ramos’ recertification, arguing that the board possesses the power to consider the case holistically.
Ford, who voted in favor of the SAFE-T Act, stated that the intention behind the legislation should not impede a second chance for individuals who have demonstrated growth. He added that he would work to change Illinois law so Ramos and officers in similar positions have recourse.
Governor J.B. Pritzker also voiced his support for Ramos, noting that she exemplifies someone who has learned from her past mistakes.
“Officer Ramos is a model of someone who, despite making a mistake during a difficult time in her life, has rehabilitated and learned from that past,” the governor said.
The Riverside Police Department plans to appeal the decision at a training and standards board meeting in early September. In the meantime, Ramos is working for the Village of Riverside, albeit not in her desired capacity as a police officer.