Magda Fernandez: Protecting the Harbor

This is 2017 – California was taken from Mexico in 1848. Good that she is where she is now but she should have been the 50th or more.

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Magda Fernandez, San Diego Harbor Police

Magda Fernandez is the first and only Latina in the San Diego Harbor Police Department to hold the position of Sergeant. Andrea Lopez-Villafaña | La Prensa San Diego

As the only female and Latina Sergeant for the San Diego Harbor Police Department, Magda Fernandez, is not only serving her community but also paving the way for future generations.

Sgt. Fernandez has been with the Department for 16 years and works within the investigations and intelligence section of the Harbor Police, which handles criminal cases.

Currently, she oversees criminal detectives and a task force group, which are detectives assigned to work with other agencies like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Being an officer for this specific department in San Diego requires versatility because the Harbor Police is responsible for police services and marine firefighting for the Port of San Diego, the San Diego International Airport, and the San Diego Bay.

Harbor Police duties can range from traffic enforcement and general patrolling tasks to airport security or vessel patrolling in the coastal areas.

“There’s not a thing routine or typical of what we do, there’s no routine day,” Sgt. Fernandez said.

Sgt. Fernandez laid out her firefighting gear on the table and shared that marine firefighting requires a different mindset. Andrea Lopez-Villafaña | La Prensa San Diego

The Department also trains all officers in marine firefighting, something that she said is exciting and requires a mindset shift.

“You’re working with a lot of adrenaline and excitement,” Sgt. Fernandez said. “So it’s taking off one uniform and getting out of one role and entering another role, which is just as equally or more important.”

The ability to carry out vehicle patrolling, vessel patrolling, airport enforcement, search and rescue, and marine firefighting all in one job is a requirement that appealed to Sgt. Fernandez because of her professional background.

Originally from Nogales, Arizona, Sgt. Fernandez recalls not making the best decisions as a teenager. However, her father played a role in encouraging her to follow a different path.

She became a volunteer at a hospital with the help of her father, who was a nurse, and she eventually moved to the emergency room as an emergency medical technician.

It was there that Sgt. Fernandez was exposed to the idea of pursuing a career in law enforcement. Watching police officers enter the hospital with victims and prisoners piqued her interest, she said.

She joined the Santa Cruz Search and Rescue Team as a diver and then joined the United States Coast Guard. Eventually she joined the San Diego Harbor Police Department.

Sgt. Fernandez said the department was right up her alley because of the different skills required that she possessed like diving, and firefighting, which she had experience in having volunteered as a firefighter.

“It covered all of my interests, it satisfied all of my needs,” she said.

Going on 17 years with the Harbor Police, Sgt. Fernandez has experience as a boating collision investigator, environmental crimes investigator, and a marine safety investigator.

She helped establish the Harbor Police Department’s Terrorism Liaison Officer Program, which focuses on educating officers and members of the port community on being aware of potential terrorism and criminal activities.

The program seemed of value to her, she said, because she believed it was important to educate the community on alerting the department of suspicious activities.

In 2008, Sgt. Fernandez was named Officer of the Year for her dedication and work for the Department.

Sgt. Fernandez’s three boys look up to her achievements and she said they are interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement as well. Andrea Lopez-Villafaña | La Prensa San Diego

“I’m very proud of my accomplishments and it hasn’t been an easy journey,” she said. “Nothing in this life is easy unless you work hard for it and we’re going to hit those rode bumps and we just got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep going and those are the times that you realize what you’re made out of.”

Aside from her personal achievements, she is passionate about watching young officers succeed in their careers through their mentoring and training at the department. Sgt. Fernandez said it is not about duplicating yourself but instead duplicating the efforts back into the community through them.

Her greatest motivation, although she laughs and shares that there are many, is making her three children proud and ensuring the safety of her community.

“I want to make my community proud, continue to make my Latino community proud, and be an example for young Latina ladies,” Sgt. Fernandez said.