In his role as the school resource officer (SRO) for the Tustin Unified School District, Officer Sinclair Alfonso is responsible for the safety of students, teachers, and administrators at 16 elementary, two K-8, four middle, and four high schools.
Alfonso’s mission is to maintain safety on campuses and prevent delinquency. Counseling, education and enforcement are all part of the job.
“I have kids myself and wanted to help the community and I thought being a school resource officer would be a good impact on the kids,” said Alfonso, who’s been an SRO for two years and on the job with the Tustin Police Department for seven years.
But while enforcing the law is part of the job, Alfonso said his first goal is usually to connect a struggling or troubled student with the right resources to get back in the right direction.
“A lot of times, putting a kid in juvenile hall is not the right answer,” said Alfonso, “You want to get them resources that help them build themselves up, have confidence in themselves. Usually, they’ve lost confidence.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 school year has been anything but typical for SROs.
Alfonso still makes the rounds among the district’s campuses, but on a given day, a large segment of the student population is learning virtually from home, so monitoring their behavior isn’t always easy.
For students in lower grades, making sure there is adult supervision has been one of Alfonso’s responsibilities.
“Just because they are at home doing online learning, doesn’t mean they should be home by themselves if they are not able to take care of themselves,” Alfonso said. “A lot of kids are at home now. But lately, a lot of kids are coming back, which is a good thing.”
When a student hasn’t been in school or online, there could be a problem which often requires a home visit from the SRO.
“If they don’t want to listen to me, they will usually listen to him,” said Hillview High School Principal Tim O’Donoghue. “These (SROs) are there to help kids. They are not there to bust them on campus. They will if they have to, but that is not the reason they are there. They are there to support kids. We get it, and we appreciate it.”
Alfonso starts his day at 6 a.m. and works 10-hour shifts. He has an office at Tustin High School, though he handles calls and makes the rounds among the district campuses.
“When they need me, I’m here for them,” he said.
Alfonso works closely with Tustin High School Assistant Principal Michelle Everitt, who handles issues related to discipline and attendance.
“With his experience, I know that he has seen the whole gamut of cases,” Everitt said. “It’s great to have someone who is so knowledgeable to support us here at Tustin High School.”
There are circumstances in which the SRO’s involvement is necessary, Everitt said, but even when a situation doesn’t involve the law, Alfonso often offers support.
“It’s definitely a two-pronged approach,” Everitt said. “We go through the details of the situation. He does a great job explaining where law enforcement comes into the situation. He’ll reach out to families and reach out to kids in support of what we’re doing on the school side. It’s really nice to have that support and just to supply the kids with all the information so they can make better choices in the future.”