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Q & A with HPD School Resource Officer Victor Castro
Hillsboro Police Department School Resource Officer Victor Castro has served the community for the past 17 years, and has served in law enforcement for 23 years between work in Hillsboro and Los Angeles. Here, Victor shares his experiences serving English-and Spanish-speaking students at Hillsboro High School, WL Henry Elementary School, Witch Hazel Elementary School, and Minter Bridge Elementary School.
Why did you become a School Resource Officer?
A lot of my personal and work experiences help me to make connections with students and families, and I could see the impact I was making early on. It’s like the saying, ‘It’s easier to teach a child than it is to fix an adult.’ Being a mentor, a role model, and an advocate for kids – and working with families – is the best part of the job.
Can you describe a typical day?
I start my days at the elementary schools and hang out at the entryway and cafeteria greeting the kiddos. They love us at that age. Then I move to the high schools. Checking in with students, talking about what’s going on at school and at home. Talking with families and connecting them with resources. Working with school administrators. Our goal is to find out what we can do to help a student make the changes that are necessary for a successful future. If kiddos get involved in behavior that needs to be corrected, it’s a question of what can we do to help the student the best? Follow-up and support are crucial to helping kiddos learn from their mistakes. After something happens, I let them know, ‘I’m going to work with you and support you’. In any investigation, it’s the follow-through that matters most.
Tell us about the work you do inside the schools?
I love teaching in my elementary schools. Right now, I focus on teaching sixth graders lessons of respect, which encompasses bullying, social media, being smart and safe, gang awareness, and lessons from the DARE program about tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. When I meet with kids, I am appropriate, but frank, in preparing them for middle school.
How do students react when they see you?
In high school you get hellos, smiles, and nods, but in the elementary schools they are really excited. It makes my day to see how they respond to me. Being in uniform, they see me as a cop, but also as a human being – as someone who has been in their shoes.
I keep up with current music and movies to talk with students. I mentor high school students who have been skipping class or are having other issues. Sometimes I make a deal that if they stay out of trouble and graduate, I’ll buy their cap and gown.
Students love seeing my tattoos and learning what they mean to me – they are personal and faith-based from my Mexican roots. My ink is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. It breaks down the stereotype and makes me unique. I let my work ethic speak for itself.
How does speaking Spanish help you connect with students?
It’s a huge plus. In my elementary schools, the students speak a lot of Spanish as part of immersion programs. Parents are highly appreciative, especially in the Latino community. There is a sense of relief in the Latino community when they call and get a Spanish speaker. We’re highly visible and directly connected to the community and parents.
Have you had any a-ha moments when you realized you were getting through to a student?
The first that comes to mind is from several years ago. I had a kiddo who was the subject of a tagging or graffiti investigation at a middle school. Instead of criminal charges, we came up with a contract where instead of being arrested, he pledged to go to classes, work hard, get good grades, listen to his parents, and be an assistant counselor at one of our youth summer camps. Years later, I got an email from him thanking me for giving him a chance that time and believing in him. I had saved the contract and I went to his graduation and I gave him the framed contract. He couldn’t believe I still had it and was very thankful. Sometimes you just don’t know the impact you make until years later.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Investigating crimes against children, particularly child abuse and neglect, is very difficult. Some of the injuries we’ve seen on these kids is heartbreaking. The people that are supposed to be protecting them are hurting them. I focus on getting students support and care, and then following through with families. Don’t be afraid to utilize available services in the schools for support or counseling.
If you could give Hillsboro families advice on one thing – what would it be?
Parents are the first teachers, mentors, and role models. We want to give our kids what we didn’t have, but what’s most important are faith, values, respect, and developing a work ethic. It’s not the material things, it’s the core values and beliefs.