Teenagers take patience — just ask the parents who raise them and the educators who teach them.
As the Tustin Police Department’s School Resource Officer (SRO), John Alvarado also knows this to be true, and not just because he and his wife have raised two daughters.
Alvarado has looked out for more than 3,700 students in Tustin — most of them teenagers — and has loved it.
“You definitely need a lot of restraint when dealing with teenagers sometimes,” he said. “You have to be firm when you need to be, and be their friend when they need it.”
After 26 years with Tustin PD — three of those serving as the SRO — Alvarado, 50, has said goodbye. He retired July 5.
The officer joined Tustin PD in 1990 after his brother, an Anaheim cop, brought him on a few ride-alongs.
“I was sold,” he said.
After graduating from the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy, Class 100, Alvarado worked patrol before becoming a detective, where he worked in the General Investigations Unit and specialized in juvenile cases for four years.
He then was tapped for the crimes against persons assignment , where he stayed for three years.
Whatever his assignment, patience, Alvarado said, is what guided him through much of his career.
Patience served him well when he was just a few years on the job and he responded to a domestic dispute at an apartment complex.
He arrived to find a man standing at the top of a stair landing, yelling at his girlfriend.
Alvarado was waiting for backup and tried to advise the female to go inside, when the man involved reached into his waistband and yelled, “You want some of this?”
The patrol cop drew his weapon, but didn’t immediately fire.
“I got good sights on him and was able to see he pulled a champagne bottle,” he said. “The guy had a champagne bottle stuffed in his baggy pants.”
That extra split second to gather information likely prevented an officer involved shooting, Alvarado said.
Patience also proved a virtuous trait when Alvarado, a detective at the time, investigated an attempted kidnapping case.
Police had responded to an early morning hit-and-run call, but officers quickly learned the crash was staged in an attempt to kidnap a woman.
Patrol officers arrived and a pursuit ensued, but three of the four suspects got away.
Alvarado, with his partner at the time, Gentry Mayfield, had very little to go on.
A receipt for a taco shop in the City of Orange found on the suspect they arrested is where the detectives started to build their case.
They visited the taco shop, learned there was surveillance video rolling and pulled the tape.
Alvarado and Mayfield went door to door, pictures of the suspects in hand, trying to track down any information.
After a lot of diligent police work, they were able to accurately identify the suspects, which led to the arrest of two of the men.
Both are serving life sentences in prison, and the third suspect remains on Tustin PD’s “Most Wanted” list.
“Having absolutely nothing and figuring out techniques and being able to identify those suspects was huge,” Alvarado said. “That was probably one of my most memorable cases.”
After his rotation from his detective assignment, and a brief return to Patrol, , Alvarado started work as TPD’s school resource officer.
“It was perfect timing,” he said. “I had a background in working with juveniles and I really enjoyed working that detail.”
Alvarado’s easygoing, laid-back demeanor seemed to play well with the students at Tustin High School, which is where the officer spent most of his time.
As the SRO, Alvarado was responsible for ensuring school safety at Tustin High School, Hillview High School and the city’s four middle schools.
Alvarado handled issues that ranged from bullying concerns to substance abuse — however, he said, the need for enforcement actions were rare on the campuses he worked — and also frequently ran assessments and ensured the schools’ safety procedures were updated.
But most of the time, Alvarado served as a mentor.
“I’m here to help in whatever way I can,” he said. “And I have developed bonds with a lot of these kids.”
Sometimes students visited Alvarado’s office to talk about family problems or school issues. Sometimes they just want to hang out.
Other times, students wanted to pick Alvarado’s brain about his career.
“In today’s society, I think there is such a negative perception of police work,” he said. “A lot of these kids have never dealt with the police, so for me to be here, interact with them and show them the human side, I think, changes their perception.”
On the last day of school, June 17, the officer walked the campus and he was stopped every few minutes by teachers, coaches and students who wanted to say “thank you.”
A group of boys hanging under the shade of a tree near a row of lockers spotted Alvarez walking down the corridor and broke into the “COPS” theme song.
Alvarado had a smile for them, chatted with them about their summer plans, then went on his way.
The group of teenage boys again picked up the tune, sending Alvarado off on his final campus tour.
Alvarado said he’ll miss it.
“I will miss everything from the adrenaline rush of getting the hot call to being here on campus and working with the staff,” he said. “Everybody here really cares about these kids.”
He and his wife plan to move to Texas — home of his favorite baseball team, the Rangers — where he will work on his woodworking business.
As he reflects on his career, Alvarado said he hopes he left the department and the schools he served a little better than when he arrived.
“I’d like to think there are a few future police officers who maybe weren’t considering law enforcement before talking to me,” he said. “I hope people remember me as honest, family-oriented and that I tried to do my best to help the community.”