Vargas: The job of a school resource officer gets tougher all the time, as two recent videos suggest

By Joe Vargas

There are a lot of jobs in police work, and some get more attention than others.

Television and movies seem to focus on homicide detectives, gang investigators, and undercover officers, but there are other assignments that don’t seem as glamorous at first glance but are, in fact, challenging and necessary. School resource officer is one of those.

It’s not an easy job dealing with an often recalcitrant student body, irate parents, and everyday school drama.

The challenges school resource officers face became evident this past week when a Riverside County deputy assigned to San Jacinto High School tried to break up a bunch of students fighting. According to news reports, the deputy was trying to break up the fight when suddenly things went sideways and he was in a knock-down, drag-out fight with one of the students.

The altercation was, of course, captured by voyeuristic students on their cell phones and posted online. The officer tries to control the situation, and as he is trying to detain one of the instigators he is swarmed by students. At one point, the officer is tackled to the ground by the student as dozens of other students watch.

The young man gets up and, as the officer tries to detain him, other students wrestle the man out of the officer’s grasp. Another student takes the officer’s baton away from him. That is when substitute teacher Daniel Leyva intervened and started pushing students away. In a CBS Los Angeles interview, Leyva described how he felt compelled to take action.

As the crowd continued to close in, the officer pulled out his handgun briefly but returned the weapon to its holster almost immediately. He was able to take control of the student and take him into custody.

A witness told CBS Los Angeles that she saw the male student strike a female student. When the officer intervened, the student started pushing him. The officer attempted to arrest the student, and when he wouldn’t go down he used the baton to strike the student’s legs.

“I feel there is a lack of respect for authority,” Leyva said during his interview with CBS.

The suspect’s mother was contacted by a reporter. She acknowledged that her son did take the officer’s baton and resist but said she would expect any young person in the same situation to do the same thing.

This isn’t by any means an unusual occurrence. Last month, another school resource officer was body slammed by a 17-year-old student while trying to break up a fight at a football game. In that case, parents intervened and came to the dazed officer’s aid. That altercation was also captured on video and was posted to social media.

It appears the mere presence of an armed, uniformed police officer isn’t enough to get compliance these days and the often under-appreciated job of the school resource officer is more challenging than ever.

Joe Vargas is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.