Editor’s Note: This article was written by Sal Kennedy-Ross, CSUSB University Police Department
For many alumni who served in the Community Service Officer Program at the CSUSB University Police Department, the student employee program has served as a pipeline to careers in the field of criminal justice, both as sworn and nonsworn personnel. Some have also pursued crime-fighting careers in the private sector, working closely with law enforcement agencies while others have begun practicing law.
The Community Service Officers, affectionately known as “CSOs,” are divided into two groups, which assist both UPD and Parking & Transportation Services. Police CSOs are tasked with a variety of responsibilities from locking down the university buildings every night to providing escorts and logging and returning found property. They are also responsible for assisting the public and the UPD officers and staff. Parking CSOs on the other hand, generally staff the information booths, work the front desk in the parking office and assist parking staff.
“I’m extremely proud of our CSOs; they are diligent and talented,” said University Police Chief Nina Jamsen.
Since taking the helm of the department in 2015, Jamsen has overseen a revamp of the CSO program, which is intended to build cohesiveness between the parking and police CSOs and to encourage them to seek careers in law enforcement.
“The program has given them an opportunity to have a greater insight into the criminal justice field,” Jamsen said. “Many graduate with a degree and venture into a career in criminal justice or a related career.
“Not only do they serve as our ‘eyes and ears,’ they also provide many services for our campus community,” she said. “They are the next generation of leaders. This is particularly crucial for our noble profession of law enforcement.”
Whether it’s escorting someone to safety on campus or returning lost property, the CSOs represent the very meaning of community service, said Sgt. Devon Herrington, who has run the CSO program at UPD since 2017.
Herrington is immensely proud of its legacy and success. A 12-year veteran of the department, Herrington helped develop the inaugural Annual CSO Academy that same year, along with a UPD/Parking & Transportation Services committee.
The annual 10-day Academy – which all Community Service Officers hired into the fold must attend – is modeled after a mini law enforcement training academy. The heart and intent of the academy is to help build cohesiveness among the CSOs as well as encourage teamwork and impart practical knowledge such as how to survive acts of violence and what to do to survive and assist others in case of an emergency situation on campus. The CSOs also become certified in First Aid and CPR, and learn everything from how to do nightly building lockdowns on campus, operate the carts safely, to self-defense moves. They learn from guest lecturers, veteran police officers and lead CSOs.
The culmination of the academy is the three-story-high challenge course at the back of the CSUSB campus, which for many, is the most challenging part of the academy. The objective of the course? To foster teamwork among the students to help each other to complete the course, which culminates in an exhilarating zip-line drop to the ground.
Herrington’s fellow UPD officers are extremely supportive of the CSO program and she has provided many letters of recommendation for former CSOs applying to various law enforcement agencies.
Encouraging such ambitions is crucial to the students’ success and also to building the CSO program’s legacy, she said.
So far, the CSO program has produced a number of students who have successfully entered into various careers in law enforcement with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the San Bernardino Police Department, The Santa Ana Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Office of the San Bernardino County District Attorney.
Javier Chavez was a CSO at UPD, like his older brother, Edgar Chavez.
Both have since graduated from the academy and now work for the San Bernardino Police Department.
Before going to work for SBPD, Edgar worked his first job as a police officer at UPD. His brother Javier, 24, who graduated with his degree in criminal justice in 2019, joined SBPD a year later.
“Even as a kid I always knew I wanted to be a police officer,” Chavez said. “The CSO program was an introduction to law enforcement and it just gave me more motivation to join.” Eagerly, he learned his 10-codes and vehicle codes which are used when talking on the radio, which helped him stay ahead of the curve in the academy.
Over the radio, the call signs for the CSOs are “Baker Units,” and they are assigned numbers up to 25. Baker 1 is always the Lead CSO, followed by two more leads – Bakers 2 and 3 – and new CSOs are assigned other consecutive numbers.
Proper radio etiquette is also taught during the academy. Learning how to communicate over the radio and radio etiquette was a huge advantage and helped him in his interview process his panel interview, Chavez said.
For Araceli Navarette, a career in law enforcement was always the plan.
Working as a CSO for the entire time she was a student, Navarette graduated from CSUSB in summer 2020 while she was still Baker 4.
Navarette credits the CSO program with helping her develop her leadership skills.
Unlike others, she has had to overcome extra hurdles. Her dream to become a police officer was put on hold for a while when she contracted COVID-19 in the process of applying to the academy.
But for Navarette, all of her hard work and tenacity has finally paid off.
She graduated the Sheriff’s Academy in fall 2021 and has started her new job as a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy.
Tyler Jenkins was only 19 when he joined the CSO program in 2018. He served in the program for three years and was also a lead. “The program really is a stepping stone – it allows you to get a taste of what a career in law enforcement is really like,” he said. “I also created lifelong friendships.”
Now 23, Jenkins will join the San Bernardino Police Department when he graduates from the Sheriff’s Academy in December 2021.
Not all former CSOs have pursued traditional work in law enforcement; some have entered the legal field.
Heather Razook, a former CSO who graduated in 2017, eagerly awaited the results of her California Bar Exam after graduating from the University of La Verne College of Law in 2020. COVID-19 delayed delivery of the results for three months. Finally, Razook reads her results – she passed the bar exam.
Razook, 27, describes her two years as a CSO as “fantastic” in terms of her career goals. A criminal justice major who had always planned to apply to law school, she wanted to get more experience around law enforcement.
Razook credits her experience as a CSO as invaluable in landing an internship with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
“I believe it helped me get hired as an intern initially because a good understanding and relationship with law enforcement is important for the District Attorney’s Office,” she said.
“It also provided a good perspective while studying criminal law and procedure. My experience as a CSO has only ever helped me on my journey.”
Four months after she passed her bar exam, in April 2021, she was hired on at the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office as a deputy district attorney.
Other former CSOs, like Zachary Jiminez, have taken different paths to crime fighting – in the private sector.
Jiminez, a former Baker 1, graduated CSUSB in 2018 with a degree in business administration.
He later graduated from Humboldt State with a master’s in business, where he took an interest in investigating money laundering operations in banking. That interest would ultimately determine his professional future.
Today, Jiminez works closely with federal law enforcement as an anti-money laundering investigator and analyst in the gaming and hospitality industry, working to prevent illegal funds from being funneled through his work and reporting his findings to federal agencies.
While he has not ruled out a more traditional law enforcement career in the future, the former CSO enjoys his current job shutting down illegal money laundering operations.
Like his friends, Jiminez acknowledges the CSO program had a major influence on his future and said the experience was invaluable in his career path.
“The program helped me open my eyes to different fields of law enforcement,” he said. “Working for UPD also gave me leadership skills that I didn’t have before. It’s a great job to have while in school to help build your professional foundation of your career and adulthood.”
Jiminez still misses UPD, especially the officers who mentored him and the friendships he formed with other CSOs.
“They have all become cops,” he said.
For Jiminez’s cohorts, Austin Silva and Melchor Sevillano, the career path in law enforcement took a different turn – into public service and patriotic duty.
A former Baker 1, Sevillano worked as a CSO for four years at CSUSB, a job he loved. Impressed by Sevillano’s leadership skills, Herrington recommended UPD hire him on full time as a community service specialist for the department’s Parking & Transportation Services, where he worked for several months and he worked alongside three other former CSOs.
Today, Sevillano is deployed on active duty in the United States Air Force.
Austin Silva was 21 when he joined the CSO program in 2016, which he called a job of both service and reward.
He said the CSO program helped him to gain invaluable experience and knowledge of a police department.
Like Sevillano, Parking & Transportation Services hired him on full time for parking enforcement shortly after he graduated in late 2017.
“I came to understand how it functions and if it was actually something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Silva left CSUSB to start the sheriff’s academy in September 2021, a move he considers bittersweet.
“I will move on from here and now I will start my career and take everything I learned from this job in the academy and out in the field,” he said. “Being a CSO helped me get this job and I am so grateful for all the support I’ve received here.”
But now 26, some things have changed for Silva and he now has other things to consider. His infant son, Cristiano King, is now four months old.
Saira Cabrera is currently finishing her CSO tenure as Baker 2. No stranger to the profession, Cabrera already knew she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement when she joined the Police Explorer program in high school.
In addition to working as CSO, the CSUSB junior also works in the Alcohol and Beverage Commission Minor Decoy program.
Cabrera helps current Lead and Baker 1 Rosa Alvarez manage the CSO schedules and was even named CSO of the Year for 2020. Her plan is to pursue a different path in law enforcement – as a police dispatcher.
Working as a CSO has only reinforced her desire to work in law enforcement, Cabrera said.
The ambitious Cabrera is so determined to become a dispatcher she has already applied to the Dispatch Academy, and if accepted, is likely to become P.O.S.T. certified before she even graduates.
She has already applied for dispatch at UPD.
Rosa Alvarez is the current Baker 1 for UPD.
The soft-spoken Alvarez was one of the youngest of her cohort and she still gets carded, despite being nearly 23.
Unlike her predecessors, the college senior faced a unique challenge they never had – COVID-19. A novel coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape at CSUSB and for most of 2020, and the first part of 2021, the campus became a virtual ghost town while the pandemic forced students into remote learning and most faculty and staff into working from home. This means the number of student assistants is much smaller than previous years, down from 25 to 10.
All of her close friends who began in the CSO program with her, such as Araceli Navarette, have graduated and moved on.
Saira Cabrera, however, has proved to be a strong Baker 2 for Alvarez. Together, they must find a way to make sure the department has full coverage with fewer CSOs.
Buildings still need to be locked down, found property still needs to be processed, errands still need to be run. Still, Alvarez faces the challenge head on like the lead Bakers before her, who have faced other challenges, leading her team with optimism and determination.
And somehow, even with her reduced staff, she manages.
Unlike her cohorts, Alvarez will not be going into law enforcement; she will instead be pursuing a career in healthcare administration. Still, Alvarez echoes the sentiments of her fellow CSOs, and said the program has been one of the greatest experiences of her life. It has helped her develop specialized skillsets and build friendships she believes will last a lifetime.
Despite the difficulties, she makes it utterly clear that the legacy of the CSO program will remain intact, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the campus has re-populated, the program is hiring new students now and is slowly rebuilding its ranks.
“Yeah, there are a few less of us right now but we are still here, and we still have work to do,” Alvarez said of her team of CSOs. “And when this is all over, we will still be here.”