Staring down the devil, Catholic police detective finds her refuge in the Eucharist

Jasmine Cardenas, a Catholic sexual assault response team detective with the city of Prescott, Ariz., prepares to go on patrol Oct. 10, 2023. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

(OSV News) -- In her line of work, Detective Jasmine Cardenas confronts evil on a daily basis. While experiencing this evil could lead some to question God, for Cardenas, it has helped her find God in the negative and rely on him to get through the day.

"I've also been in situations where I've seen a lot of good, and I'm just like, 'God was with us. God is here,'" said Cardenas, who works for the Prescott Police Department in Arizona. "As much as people say that sometimes it's trying or difficult to believe in God or trust in God in this line of work, I feel if anything, it's strengthened my faith."

Cardenas grew up with the Catholic faith. As a child, she attended Prescott's Sacred Heart School, one of only two Catholic schools in the county. She would commute to the historic central Arizona mountain city from nearby Prescott Valley, where she still lives today.

An Explorer's program with the department provided Cardenas with her introduction to this line of work. After graduating from high school in 2014, she briefly considered a career in the military before getting a job at a jail in Camp Verde, 45 minutes from home. From there, she entered Prescott's police academy in December 2016, and she's been with the Prescott Police Department since.

"I had built relationships with several different departments in the area, and they all encouraged me to apply for their departments," she recalled. "I applied with a couple of local departments. Prescott granted me the opportunity to go through the academy under them."

At one point, Cardenas had stopped practicing her faith. But she credits her now-husband, Osvaldo, with bringing her back. He came from a devout family and had been praying for God to put someone who shared his values into his life.

"He felt in his conscience that God was telling him, 'I'm going to put someone in your path, but I want you to bring them closer to me,'" Detective Cardenas told OSV News. "It just happened to be that I walked into his life and was going through that struggle at the time. It's amazing how God works in mysterious ways."

The couple now has an almost 2-year-old daughter, whom Cardenas credits with helping her empathize with victims she may interact with and who has given her the ability to wear her "heart on your sleeve."

"As cops, we tend to be a little rigid. She has really helped me to see the world in a different perspective and just be a lot more open and kindhearted and to remember that, at the end of the day, I'm human," she said.

"I can make mistakes," Cardenas added. "Just the beauty of being a mom and learning how to balance the mom life with the work life and helping others. It's been a blessing. It hasn't really made my job harder. If anything, it's made it easier."

On the force, Cardenas currently serves as a detective investigating sex crimes. While on the job, she has worn St. Michael and Our Lady of Guadalupe medallions. She also keeps a crucifix in her office that she holds onto whenever things get difficult. St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of police officers, and Cardenas keeps images of him throughout her home.

"He's just been an anchor in difficult situations," she said. "If I'm going through a difficult incident at work or even before going into an incident, it's just always in the back of my mind to at least pray that prayer, and it really gives me that peace of mind I need."

Most Catholic police officers have a devotion to St. Michael and the Blessed Mother, said Deacon Mark Byington, himself a former police officer and a current criminal justice professor at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri. He, too, has images of St. Michael in his office, home and car.

"Most police officers and law enforcement stare the devil in the face. So, St. Michael becomes very important to have on your side, and to have Our Blessed Mother there, stomping on the head of the snake becomes very important," Deacon Byington told OSV News. "I don't know of many Catholic officers who do not have a devotion to both Our Blessed Mother and St. Michael, and it actually has to do with them confronting evil."

Cardenas also finds solace in Eucharistic adoration. She tries to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament several times a week, visiting the chapel at Sacred Heart in Prescott if she's able to go during her lunch break, or visiting the chapel at her parish of St. Germaine in Prescott Valley with her family.

"In adoration, it's like the true place where I find refuge and safety. I go into adoration, and everything around me shuts down," she said. "You're out there in the world providing people that protection and sometimes you don't feel that when you're out in the real world. You depend on yourself to even continue to be that protection for yourself. But when you step into that adoration room, you just feel God's light and peace just drape over you, and it just feels like a sense of safety, and it feels like it's home to me."

Those quiet moments of silence are important for a police officer's mental health, said Deacon Byington. He recommends that all officers, regardless of faith tradition, take five minutes of silence at the end of the day to allow the brain to process the day.

"For people who deal with the worst of the worst, they've got images as well in their heads, and that needs to kind of have a break," he said. "St. Ignatius definitely stressed that images have this big effect on us, but we need to remove that -- we need a blank slate for at least five minutes. God is found in the breath, in the little wind, the breeze, the air."

Cardenas said she appreciates the support from the department and the local community to express her Catholic faith. Prescott Police Chief Amy Bonney -- this year's Arizona Chief of the Year -- supports her officers' right to express their faith. When Cardenas graduated from the academy, Sacred Heart also dedicated its Dec. 12 Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass to law enforcement.

Cardenas also finds support among her colleagues. Fellow Catholic Ashley Santillan, who is a police officer on the Prescott force, has known Cardenas since the two were in kindergarten together at Sacred Heart.

"I feel like we have a sense of commonality when it comes to understanding the struggles that we deal with the job and just staying grounded in our faith," said Cardenas.

Within parish life, Cardenas has found herself serving as a resource for the community, particularly when it comes to the dangers today's teenagers may face.

"A lot of the times, teenagers are really hard to deal with because of all the things they're exposed to in the world; and cellular devices and social media don't make it easier for parents," she said. "Parents will reach out to me, and they'll ask me to give their children advice or just talk to them about the dangers that I deal with or just what's out there in the world."

It's also important for officers to find that balance in life in order to avoid burning out, Cardenas said. Part of that is setting healthy boundaries and making sure to leave work at work.

"Some of the things I do to decompress from the days is working out, talking about it. But I feel like it's a struggle for everyone in the profession just to find that work and life balance," she said. "At the end of the day, you got to remember that you're still a mom, you're still a wife, and when you're serving that role, you can't obviously be the cop at home. You have got to learn how to set that aside."

That balance is also important when it comes to finding time for prayer throughout the day, said Deacon Byington, noting that some devotionals like the rosary don't have to be prayed all at once but can be broken up over the course of 24 hours.

"I started noticing where a lot of time is occupied by secular activity -- YouTube or iTunes or reading or catching up on the news that is unimportant," the deacon said. "You can adjust that. I have three decades done in mid-morning and two in the afternoon because that's the time that I have."

As a woman on the force, Cardenas also has found that the authentic femininity she brings to her work can be an asset.

"Women share the tenacity and have the wisdom to make a difference in our community," she said. "We do things a little differently than men, and, at the end of the day, we can do the hard work; we might do it in a different way but still take pride in what we do. We're able to communicate better with people, sometimes, and I feel like it's really important for us to have that in this type of work."

Cardenas noted that across the country, police departments have trouble retaining officers but she encourages everybody who might be interested to consider working in a "noble" field.

"I would just encourage everyone to pursue their career if it's something they've always wanted to do," she said, "and not be afraid of failing and just go for it; to not be afraid of what the media portrays; to not be afraid of how we're depicted; to make a name for themselves and prove to the world that at the end of the day we're human just like everyone else and that we got into this profession for the right reason."

It's in these human interactions that Cardenas relies the most on God. At times when she has to interact with people who are struggling, she may notice a religious emblem inside the house and simply offer to pray for that person as a way of offering comfort.

"In my line of work, some of the most difficult situations for me have been in being the deliverer of bad news to families of those who have passed away or maybe there's an unexpected death," she said." That is the hardest thing for me to do as a human being, having to be that person to deliver that."

Yet Cardenas goes into those difficult moments "knowing that God's going to put in my mouth the right words to say to the people that are in pain," she said.

"Even at the end of that interaction, just doing that reminds me that God's there with me, and I can share my faith and can be that little light that they need."


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