South Hills High School junior Lili Hernandez has known since she was a kid that she wanted to be a police officer. 

Her goal is to improve her city and strengthen relations between her Southside community and law enforcement.

“People see cops as bad people. They think, ‘Oh, it’s 12,’” Hernandez, 16, said, using slang for police. “But I would hope I could improve their visions on police officers and anybody that works in law enforcement.”

Hernandez is part of Fort Worth ISD’s inaugural criminal justice program, which officials expect to foster homegrown police officers. The district is working with the Fort Worth Police Department to give students a deeper look into the field.

Mayor Mattie Parker said the collaboration is a way for students to share their experience with officials on what’s happening in their neighborhoods and their perceptions of policing. 

“We want homegrown heroes in our community, whether they’re civilians or they’re wearing a badge. This is just the first class, and I think opportunities are endless for us in this program,” she said.

The inaugural class has more than two dozen juniors and seniors as students. They will receive training from the Fort Worth Police Department and attend criminal justice classes. Students take classes for half the day Mondays through Thursdays at the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex.

The program will offer more career paths for Fort Worth ISD students, said David Saenz, the district’s chief of strategic initiatives and partnerships.

“You have to connect the pipelines now for our students and show them that there are these opportunities for them here in their hometown,” he said.

Only students from South Hills High School and Eastern Hills High School are participating. However, the district wants to expand to other Fort Worth ISD high schools, Saenz said. 

At an Aug. 29 event, students asked Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes questions about how he entered law enforcement.

Noakes told students that, after he graduated high school, he had no direction until he landed with the police department in 2000.

Noakes said he knows what the students bring to the table, and hopes they will be a part of the Fort Worth Police Department. 

The police chief knows not everyone will want to become a police officer. Students could go into adjacent fields, such as forensic science, or become a victim assistance advocate, Noakes said. 

“Our goal is to connect with you, to learn from you and find out how we can better engage with you wherever it is you decide you want to go,” Noakes said. 

As for Hernandez, she isn’t sure whether she’ll go straight into law enforcement after high school. She might go into the military. Either way, she wants to protect her community.

“I hope that I can be something great one day in the future,” she said. 

Marcela Sanchez is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcela Sanchez is a 2023 summer reporting fellow. She’s a North Texas native pursuing a master's in journalism, media and globalization from Aarhus University in Denmark and Charles University in the...