Crime Watch Daily rides along with L.A. County Probation Department personnel and assistant chief Margarita Perez.

Los Angeles County Assistant Probation Chief Margarita Perez may be small in stature, but she's big on determination.

Perez and her team are part of the largest probation department in the world.

Perez is determined to make her department more than a taxpayer-funded "babysitting" service for freed offenders.

Margarita Perez joined the Air Force Military Reserve in 1983, and trail-blazed through traditionally male territory as the commander of one of the first units deployed during Operation Desert Shield in Iraq, and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.

Service to the community in the most dangerous settings became a way of life for Perez. She spent two and half years as a state corrections officer in hardcore prisons in California.

In 2004 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Perez to head the state Board Of Prison Terms. Perez had to decide whether some of the worst offenders -- those sentenced to life with the possibility of parole -- deserved to walk free.

Perez understands the life of the incarcerated better than just about anyone.

Perez's team doesn't just keep track of offender whereabouts. They offer employment, substance abuse and mental health services.

In her huge role as probation chief, she also goes along with parole officers to check on parolees in the field. As probation chief, she could easily stay out of the dangerous field, but she insists on regularly getting in the trenches with her probation troops.

"One of the things that I reinforce through my actions to my staff is that I'm not going to ask you to go into neighborhoods that I wouldn't go into, to demonstrate to them that not only do I fully understand your role and the dangers associated with that role, but I'm also going to go out there in order to support you," said Perez.

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