Palm Springs Police Sgt. Melissa Desmarais is the first woman to be promoted to sergeant in the history of the Palm Springs Police Department. She started off as a patrol officer and worked hard to be appointed the City’s first female motorcycle officer, and then worked her way up to her current position supervising the patrol of downtown Palm Springs. Police Chief Al Franz notes that Desmarais is dedicated and well respected in her profession. A youth advocate, in 2007 Melissa Desmarais was awarded the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce’s Peace Officers and Public Safety “Service to Youth Award” for her work with the Palm Springs Police Explorer Program. She was also selected by her peers as 2007 “Officer of the Year.” Most recently she received the prestigious Athena Award from the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce for her tremendous contributions to the community.
Melissa, congratulations on your career achievements and on receiving the prestigious Athena Award! You must have overcome some significant obstacles along the way; can you tell us about any mentors or role models who were instrumental to you along your journey?
My mother has been a huge influence in my life. A Registered Nurse for 37 years, she’s a hardworking, caring and responsible woman who instilled in me the importance of these character traits at a very young age. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and taught me that, with dedication and effort, I could accomplish anything. I have also been blessed with a series of phenomenally talented and supportive coworkers, supervisors and administrators that have helped me develop and hone my interests and skills.
Of the Athena Award winners, Mayor Steve Pouget said: “They truly exemplify the highest level of achievement when it comes to excellence in community service and serve as tremendous role models for future generations of women leaders.” What do you personally see as your legacy for future women leaders?
The opportunities I’ve been afforded were made possible to me through the support, guidance and leadership of others who made themselves available as a resource and believed in me. I hope to offer the same support to future leaders, advocating for those that are passionate about making a positive change in the world.
Melissa, how did you come to be interested in and begin your career in law enforcement?
When I was in elementary school, I had two officers attend one of my classes. I remember being impressed with their energy, positive message and obvious passion for what they did. I never forgot that classroom visit but didn’t have the opportunity to pursue my interest in law enforcement until I was attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During the course of my studies, I was able to intern with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, an opportunity which eventually developed into a civilian job for me as I worked my way through college. Simultaneously, I was extremely involved with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Explorer Program. A challenging, rewarding and ultimately career deciding program, I vowed to return the favor and remain actively involved in the lives of youth interested in the pursuit of law enforcement-related careers. I have been able to do just that for the last 10 years as an Explorer Advisor and most currently the supervisor of the program.
That sounds fascinating–please tell us more about the Explorer Program in Palm Springs.
The Palm Spring Police Department Explorer Post 466 is a program designed for youth ages 14-20 interested in law enforcement. Explorers are held to an extremely high standard and are expected to maintain exemplary moral character. Explorers are encouraged to ride with officers to learn the intricacies of the job and volunteer hundreds of hours a year to the Department to assist with traffic control and other duties during parades, races and events throughout the City of Palm Springs. During weekly meetings, Explorers learn about a variety of law enforcement related topics and skills. They have the opportunity to test these skills against other Explorers from across California and the United States during competitions. Historically, our Explorers have done very well at competitions, earning awards and high praise from others for their team spirit and willingness to help others. Most exciting for me is the transformation of the young men and women into decisive, determined and empowered adults that occurs as they discover their own limits and abilities.
That’s fantastic! Melissa, you’re currently assigned to the Downtown District where you work closely with the merchants, employees, residents and tourists in the area. What’s your favorite part about your current assignment? What do you see as its greatest challenge(s)?
I enjoy being able to work closely with the merchants, their employees, tourists and citizens of Palm Springs to provide a safe environment for everyone. The Downtown Corridor of Palm Springs is unique in that it affords a nightlife not offered anywhere else in the Coachella Valley while boasting a variety of one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and boutiques that are primarily open during the daytime hours. The challenges to law enforcement in this area vary in relation to the time of day, the type of establishment and, often, the day of the week. With the number of people visiting Palm Springs rising each month, vigilant, aware business owners and employees coupled with ongoing proactive policing efforts are invaluable in our quest to keep the Downtown Corridor of Palm Springs safe for all residents and visitors.
When you’re not hard at work, what activities do you enjoy in and around Palm Springs? I know you used to compete in dressage, do you still ride?
I am extremely active and regularly go to the gym and hike with friends. Although I no longer ride competitively, I do have the opportunity to ride horses on a regular basis. I have been involved with the Mounted Enforcement Unit (MEU) since shortly after I began at the Palm Springs Police Department and I currently supervise the program. The MEU consists of five horses and four officers that ride as a collateral assignment.
Are there any upcoming Palm Springs events or projects that you’re particularly excited about?
I am extremely excited about the Downtown revitalization and all of the possibility it holds for the City of Palm Springs.
And what is it you love most about the community of Palm Springs?
I love the diversity of Palm Springs and enjoy the variety of activities and events that are regularly hosted in the city.
Melissa Desmarais, thank you so much for talking with me today. You are a shining inspiration and a true credit to the City of Palm Springs!