Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Orange Grove Journal

Combing through evidence at the Criminal Investigation Division of the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office, Deputy Vicky Puente is a model of focused intensity.

Whether it's reviewing investigation reports, working a crime scene for clues or talking to witnesses and suspects, Puente sees her job in the department as never-ending, and at times exhaustive. But in the end, there is no place she would rather be than on the job.

Puente's career in law enforcement has so far been a series of firsts. At the time of her hiring nearly three years ago, Puente was the only female patrol officer in the department.

Nine months ago, she was asked to take on a new role as a part-time investigator in CID. Splitting her time between patrol work and investigations, Puente honed her skills and when a position opened up in the division, Puente went to CID full-time, becoming the first female investigator in the department's history.

An opportunity also opened up six months ago with the County's SWAT team, and Puente jumped at the chance to become its first female member.

"Most of the cases I receive in CID involve sexual assaults, child sexual assaults and aggravated assaults. Anything really pertaining to women or children," Puente said. "It's easier for children to look at a female as a motherly figure in those situations. When you're collecting information on a rape case, you have to be very specific and detailed in your questioning of the victim, and women tend to feel better about being asked such questions from a female."

During her work, she uses her femininity as an attribute when working with the victims, and says she never feels used just for being a woman.

"I don't mind. I don't look at it in a negative way. They're using me to let those people feel more comfortable," Puente said.

Along with assault cases, Puente also sets up appointments for children at the advocacy center and accompanies them to the meetings. She also handles a standard load of burglary and theft cases that are referred to CID from throughout the county.

"Our office probably receives two to three burglary or theft cases a day. For assault cases, the number varies. During a weekend though, we could see as many as five or six assaults," Puente said.

Burglary and theft cases are often harder to solve, she said, because residents don't keep track of serial numbers or fail to give an accurate description of what was taken.

"We have programs that can track these items in pawn shops across the state. We can enter a suspect's name, a serial number or even a detailed description and receive a lead on pawned items," Puente said.

When it comes to her work on SWAT, Puente has worked with entry teams on no-knock warrants, watched for suspects escaping while working on the perimeter team, and driven the team vehicle.

"The whole department, no matter what area I was working in, COPS in Schools, Patrol, CID or SWAT, has never treated me differently," Puente said. "Whenever we're out there on duty, we all look out for each other."