The Town Crier stumbled across a video of a school resource officer (SRO) — a law enforcement officer assigned to work at a school — participating in a high school pep rally on his last day as serving as the SRO. The students’ reaction said everything about how much of an impact breaking down barriers between law enforcement and the community can have, especially when it comes to high school students. The newspaper wanted to spotlight just what community policing can do.
For the last year and a half, Don Lugo High School (DLHS) in Chino, California had SRO Ryan Tillman. The basic job of the SRO consists of keeping the students, staff and faculty safe while keeping crimes on campus to a minimum. However, Tillman took his job to a new level. He decided he wanted to make an impact on these future adults, taking the extra steps outside of his job description to do so.
Tillman said, “I was fortunate. I had a really good relationship with the kids. I took pride in that. Every day when I was there I would always make it a point to say hi, even if I didn’t know the kids, because I realized how important it was to get to know them. They are going through so many changes. It’s hard to be a teenager.”
The Town Crier reached out to Alexandrea Sponheim, the public information officer at Hemet Unified School District, to see if the district had anything similar happening on its campuses. She put the newspaper in touch with Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Roger Loza, a SRO at Hemet High School (HHS).
When Loza was in sixth grade, he was a bit of a trouble maker. There was a SRO that came out to do a presentation and teach the students about what’s right and wrong.
“There was something about how he talked to us that stuck with me,” Loza explained. “He made a great impression. I knew that’s what I wanted to do as my career. When I found him on Facebook recently, I told him how much he impacted me and he was very thankful I told him.”
For the last three years, Loza has been the SRO at various elementary schools and Dartmouth Middle School before he was moved to HHS this year.
Every station is different when it comes to the SRO positions, according to Loza. At the Hemet Sheriff’s Station, the sergeant who oversees the SROs felt it didn’t make any sense to take a new guy from the street and put him into the high school.
“Patrol is very different, and the younger the kids are, the easier it is to adjust to being the SRO,” Loza said. “So when the position opened up at Hemet High School, the sergeant thought I’d fit in perfectly. It’s been very beneficial because a lot of the kids I’ve known from the schools prior I am now seeing grow up. I’m moving along with them, and I’ve moved up with them.”
“I’d rather talk to them, hold them accountable for their actions and respect them,” Loza said about his role. “I’m here to help them make the right decisions and I will continue to do my part in helping them.”
Growing up, becoming a police officer was not something Tillman ever saw in his future.
“I never thought I would be a police officer. I had negative run-ins with cops before, so I didn’t like them,” said Tillman who became a police officer six years ago, serving the city of Chino. “The opportunity arose and the doors just flew open. I want to combat some of the negative stigmas that we get and help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.”
With that, Tillman started his company Breaking Barriers United (BBU). When he’s not working for the Chino Police Department, he travels the country mentoring students, giving presentations and talks to law enforcement about changing perceptions and the culture within their profession.
Being the SRO at DLHS was no different, taking the same concept of his company and putting it into action with the students.
Tillman was promoted to corporal, putting him back on patrol as a field supervisor, which also means he had to leave DLHS.
“I’ve always liked to dance,” Tillman told the newspaper. “They knew I liked to dance. When I got promoted, it was bittersweet. Bitter, because I had to leave the school, but it was sweet that I got to do that and have those memories.”
Taking two days, Tillman and some of the students picked some songs and moves to rehearse, and that’s how the dance performance during a school pep rally came to fruition. “That dance video was more of an expression of my experience as an officer. That sums up my relationship and career as a police officer in the last six years.”
The video went viral.
Tillman is back patrolling the streets of Chino. If you see him, extend the same respect and kindness that he does for his community.
Watch the video below and find out more about Breaking Barriers United, search Breaking Barriers United on Facebook or visit Breakingbarriersunited.com.