Latina Dakota County Sheriff's deputy builds bridges in community

Dakota County Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Perez talks about why she joined the force. (FOX 9)

A sheriff's deputy in the south metro is part of the changing face of law enforcement.

For Dakota County Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Perez, working in law enforcement is living out a childhood dream, but she definitely took the long road to her newfound career.

"I just knew I wasn't going to be happy in life until I fulfilled my dream," said Perez.

Perez pursued a degree in law enforcement in college, but she stopped school once she started having kids and to help her husband's chiropractic business get off the ground. Once her kids were older, Perez went back to school and after taking a part-time job as a community service officer for Lakeville Police Department. She knew she found her calling.

"As soon as I started there," said Perez. "I was like this is it. I felt like I was putting my talents to use."

So earlier this year at the age of 42, Perez started working for the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, where she is the first Latina licensed deputy. By speaking Spanish and looking like 10 percent of the county's population, she believes she is helping the department better reflect the communities it serves.

"There's always been a disconnect between the Hispanic community and policing," said Perez. "I wanted to be the representative for my culture in this field."

Perez also believes her life experience helps her relate to many different kinds of people and that is a quality that comes in handy -- both on and off the road.

"I think when you join the career later in life it’s because you actually want to be here," she said. "You genuinely have an interest in giving back to the community by serving it."