A positive influence: Sheriff’s Deputies take on unique role at schools

School resource officer Tom Drake poses with a student during Saugus High School's lunch break on August 25, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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As students enter any of the Santa Clarita Valley’s 14 junior high schools and high schools, they may be greeted by one of the valley’s six School Resource Officers (SROs).

The deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station are assigned to oversee specific high schools and middle schools and act as liaisons for elementary schools throughout the valley.

But these deputies offer more than just physical protection on campus; they also form authentic relationships with students as they act as mentors, counselors, disciplinarians and interventionists.

Each day for the School Resource Officers is different.  They answer administrative calls, search for lost backpacks and property, intervene in school drama and respond to disruptions on campus.

However, the key goal for all six deputies—who have been in their roles from one week to 10 years—is to positively influence and impact the lives of the students they work with one a daily basis.

Here is a look at the six School Resource Deputies that work in schools throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.  SROs are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Deputy Toby Coe

West Ranch High School Toby Coe in his office on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In March 2016, Deputy Toby Coe assumed his position as School Resource Officer after working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 12 years and at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station for nine years.

“It’s actually fun working with the kids and trying to change their perspective of us,” Coe said of his work with students at West Ranch High School, Rancho Pico Junior High School and Castaic Middle School.

Originally Coe did not want to be a school deputy, but he did want to work with kids and try to positively influence them by being honest with them and treating them like human beings and not as juveniles.

“I know these kids and can try to keep them out of trouble, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.

Every day is different for Coe who splits his time between the three schools throughout the week, especially during brunch and lunch hours.

“This morning I was in meetings with students and parents,” he said.  “I still have to make calls to parents regarding incidents that happened during the last week and a half.”

As a SRO, Coe also oversees football games, basketball games and school dances.

“It’s different, you can see how rowdy they can get,” he said.  “As long as they’re behaving then it’s kind of just letting them be.”

In the future, Coe plans to move to the Detective Bureau and possibly pursue a future in the Special Victims Unit.

“I know there’s a test coming up for the Detective Bureau so I’d like to go that route too,” he said.

Deputy Tom Drake

School resource officer Tom Drake supervises as Saugus High School students break for lunch on Friday, August 25, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

More than 33 years ago, Deputy Tom Drake found his calling as a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy during a career day at Hart High School.

“The deputy sheriff came to career day and offered the opportunity of the job and that’s what hooked me,” Drake said.  “I joined the Explorer Program back in 1979 and then I volunteered at our station and from that day on I said ‘this is the job I want to do every single day.’”

Several years later, while he was teaching a law enforcement class for the Hart District, he discovered his other passion: working with high school students.

For the past eight years, Drake has worked as a School Resource Officer for Saugus High School, Bowman High School and Arroyo Seco Junior High School.

“I love my job, it’s a perfect fit,” he said.  “It takes a unique person to want to work with junior high and high school kids.”

Each day Drake tries to make it to lunch at both Arroyo Seco and Saugus to monitor student behavior and act as a resource for those in need.

He also spends most of his days creating a positive environment on campus, locating lost student property and handling student drama in person and on social media.

“For me it’s the seventh to 10th grade.  By the time you reach 11th grade you’re focused and mature enough,” Drake said.  “You’ve got boys and they just want to question authority and rebel whether it’s for a two-week period or a 10-year period…  The girls just want to be accepted and want to be liked.”

School resource officer Tom Drake supervises as Saugus High School students break for lunch on Friday, August 25, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In his position, Drake hopes that he guides students to make better decisions about their careers and keeps them out of trouble.

“Correcting that behavior, that’s what high school is for,” he said.  “I went to Hart High and I got in trouble a couple of times and I think that’s what righted my ship and I think that’s what high school is for, to learn from your mistakes.”

Drake believes this is the greatest value in having school deputies on campus who relate to students and understand what they are going through.

“I believe the town is so fortunate to have school deputies on site instead of the principal having to call the station,” he said.

When Drake retires in the next year or so, he plans to continue working with students on campuses like Saugus High School.

“I have a year and a half left and then I get to retire,” he said.  “I’m going to come back here as a campus supervisor.”

Deputy Javier Guzman

School resource deputy Javier Guzman talks with students at Hart High School on Monday, August 28, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Currently in his 16th year with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy Javier Guzman knew he wanted to be a School Resource Officer five years ago.

“When I was working patrol I always found it was easy talking to kids,” Guzman said.  “When this job came up I put in for it and it worked out so far, so that’s good.”

As a SRO at Hart High School and Placerita Junior High School and as a liaison for the Newhall School District, Guzman goes out of his way to interact with every single student.

“I’m not one of those yellers and I pretty much talked to everyone even if they don’t talk to me,” he said.  “You see that kid whose up in the corner and no one is talking to, I’ll go talk to them.”

Each day, Guzman arrives at the school before the day begins to survey the campus, speak to staff and see if there is anything pressing to attend to.  He also walks around each campus during lunch and brunch to make sure everything is going well.

“I always tell people that 99 percent of our contacts with people are not negative, they’re actually positive,” he said.  “A lot of the stuff does not involve police action.  A lot of it involves counseling and I think I do a decent job at doing that.”

School resource deputy Javier Guzman talks with students at Hart High School on Monday, August 28, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In his role, Guzman has also found a way to connect with the school’s Spanish-speaking families who come to him when they do not feel comfortable calling the station.

“I’ve actually given out my phone number,” Guzman said.  “There’s a lot of stuff where families have specifically wanted to speak with me about that they weren’t comfortable talking with other people… I hope that I’ve been able to help out.”

Guzman also hopes that his presence on campus has changed students’ perspective of law enforcement and made them more comfortable speaking to him about problems they are having.

“Just because we’re the police doesn’t mean we’re taking you to jail, we want to make sure you’re safe,” he said.

For Guzman, the most rewarding part of the job is seeing students who were struggling during high school return and thank him for helping them during the past four years.

“That’s cool when I’ve had 20 year olds come back to me and tell me their stories,” he said.  “It’s encouraging.”

Deputy Natalie Hidalgo

School resource officer Natalie Hidalgo in front of the gym at Golden Valley High School, where she was recently assigned. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Deputy Natalie Hidalgo is Santa Clairta’s newest School Resource Deputy as she began her role at Golden Valley High School, La Mesa Junior High School and Sequoia School in September.

During her six years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Hidalgo has held worked in several different areas of the department including field work, counter work, identify theft reports, patrol, dispatch and calls.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve worked different parts of the department or the station,” Hidalgo said.  “This [acting as a SRO] will just expand my knowledge on juveniles now which will be great.”

Hidalgo first became interested in the position when a deputy approached her about the opening and asked her if she wanted to apply.

“Of course I’m going to jump on any new opportunity so I can try something different and have a different experience so I applied for it and got it,” she said.  “I’ve worked with the Explorer Program and, in general, the youth is something I’ve always wanted to work with.”

Before she began her new role as SRO, Hidalgo sought advice from the area’s other five SRO deputies.

“All of them have helped me out and been so great with this,” Hidalgo said.  “The deputies all gave me their two cents on what to do and not to do.”

During her first week on the job, Hidalgo made herself available to the students and interacted with each school’s administration so she could familiarize herself on each campus.

“It’s been great.  Everyone’s been totally nice and open, and the kids come up to me which is awesome,” she said.  “I’m trying to throw myself out there as much as possible and making sure I’m approachable, if anyone wants to talk to me I’m available to talk to.”

As an SRO, Hidalgo hopes to spend time at each of the schools every day and motivate students in a positive way.

“Hopefully [I can] be a lending hand and helping kids who have trouble, that’s what I’ve been doing so far with the kids,” she said.  “If you have any problems come up to me and we can try to resolve them.”

Hidalgo is also from the area, having attended Valencia High School, College of the Canyons and CalState LA where she earned her bachelor’s in political science.

“I’ve always taken interest in law and got a BA in political science.  I love law, it came easy for me to understand,” she said.  “I’m going for my master’s right now in criminal justice.”

Deputy Mike Perry

Canyon High School resource officer Deputy Mike Perry in his office on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

This year, Deputy Mike Perry began acting as the School Resource Officer for Canyon High School and Sierra Vista Junior High School after holding the same role at Golden Valley High School for nine years.

Perry decided to become Golden Valley’s SRO after hearing about the job from a colleague five years ago.

“Golden Valley was just starting up, it was in its third year,” said Perry, who has been with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 25 years.  “It was kind of rough at first, but me and Principal Sal Frias got along real well and had a good philosophy of rehabilitation with second chances and third chances… It took a few years for us to get to that point and now the school runs really well.”

As an SRO, Perry tries to be both stern and approachable with students he interacts with.

“Our philosophy is you come to school, this is a safe-haven for you to let your guard down, to be normal and try to get an education and do the best you can,” Perry said.  “Don’t bring problems into this school and there will be no problem.”

Perry also tells students that he is not there to harass them or “get in their face,” but that he wants them to go to school, behave well in class and come to him with concerns.

“It’s an alternative means of correction; we’re not about hook and book and get on your way,” he said.  “We tell the kids that we constantly deal with ‘if you just come to school and try your best you’d be surprised how we’re not in your face.’  We’re only going to be in your face if you’re disrupting the class or causing issues or doing something that’s a criminal act on school grounds.”

In his role, Perry also works to develop a good rapport with school counselors and psychologists, and with students on campus.

“If you have a question or need to talk, our office is always open, we encourage it,” he said.

After nine years as a SRO, Perry said the best part of the job is working with students and helping them reach graduation.

“It’s a good reward, especially when those kids cross the podium at the end,” he said.  “At the end all the kids come up to us and want pictures.  The good thing is the positive feedback we get.”

Deputy Pete Romo

Deputy Pete Romo greets students during Valencia High School’s brunch break on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Deputy Pete Romo is the area’s longest serving SRO, having worked at Valencia High School and Rio Norte Junior High School for 10 years.

“After a couple of years working patrol here an opening opened up here so I figured I’ll try something different.  And obviously 10 years later I kind of like it,” Romo said.

Twenty-two years ago, Romo decided to join the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after watching deputies patrol his area and seeing his brother join the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I grew up in a rough neighborhood so the sheriff’s department patrolled my area and I saw a lot of them in action and it seemed interesting to me,” he said.

In his role as SRO, Romo has now seen the same occur for former students who now work in the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve been at the school for 10 years so I’ve seen kids up to 28 or 30 so it’s neat seeing them become professionals in their lives,” he said.  “Some of them are actually on the sheriff’s department now so it’s pretty wild.”

As an SRO, each day is different for Romo as he monitors each campus during brunch and lunch, attends school sporting events and dances, monitors social media content and intervenes in campus issues.

“It could be anything from a presentation to one of the junior highs or elementary schools to having to deal with kids that are brining drugs to school or fighting,” Romo said.  “It varies from one extreme to the other.”

Romo also tries to develop personal relationships with students at both schools and keep in touch with them throughout the year.

“They go out of their way to come over and say hi,” Romo said.  “The high schoolers are a little bit less likely to come up and say hi to you, the middle schoolers approach you a little more.  Both of them have their own unique way of interacting.”

For Romo, the most rewarding part of the job is seeing struggling students grow up and “turn it around” by the time they are seniors.

“Sometimes they’re troubled kids or start off a little rough, but then they bring it together when they’re senior year comes around and that’s pretty rewarding,” he said.  “Watching them get their diplomas it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Deputy Pete Romo supervises Valencia High School students during brunch on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

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