Under the Sun: Deputy Eric Smith, school resource officer

Posted on August 22, 2019 by Sonoma Valley Sun

How do the students at Sonoma Valley  High relate to the “cop on campus”?  I get different reactions. Some of the kids relate to me, want to engage with me. Others get quiet when I’m around. This is my fourth year on campus, so I know a lot of the students. 


What is your job?  I’m there to assist in whatever I can. My primary role is from a safety standpoint. I am not the “school rules enforcer” for little things. And my goal is to not arrest. If I do, it’s a bad day for me, because it means I didn’t stop that behavior before it came to that point.  


What does School Resource Officer job entail? The SRO is a jack of all trades. Besides community engagement, I am a mentor for the students. The role is a little like a coach or teacher, when students come to them for advice about things going on in their lives. And I have a specific educator role, working with the students on drug abuse issues, and also with educators and parents about how to spot drug use. I am the facilitator for the Parent Project, which is a series of classes to give parents tools for dealing with their children, especially children who are having difficulties. Also, I go to the elementary schools to teach safety protocols to the educators on each site. And I spend some time at the two middle schools.   


What about smoking or vaping on campus? The tobacco law has changed, and possession is not illegal, but the Sonoma Municipal Code prohibits smoking in public places, so a child could receive a citation. If that happens, the student would go to the Youth and Family program. It’s restorative – the goal is not to punish but to redirect the destructive behavior.  


Who hires the “special resource officer”?  The job is a partnership between the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and the Sheriff’s Office. My office is actually at the high school, in the admin building. I technically serve all the schools in the District, but when school is open, the great majority of my time is at the high school.


What is a typical day for you? I try to be visible. I talk to the kids, so they know that I’m there to support them. Building relationships. That’s the community engagement part. At the same time, I’m always on the lookout for safety issues.  


How do the recent public shootings, including at schools, affect you? Well, the shootings deservedly get a lot of attention, but they are rare. All deputies are trained to respond to any issue of violence, in any public place. And additionally, I am on the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. It is a collateral duty; we are trained and used to respond to higher-risk scenarios.  


How did you decide to become a police officer? My older brother was a policeman. During summers when I was home from college I would go on ride-alongs with him. 


Where did you go to school? I went to UC Santa Barbara. My major was performance music, and I got a Bachelor of Music degree. My instrument was the tuba. I played in the UCSB Symphony orchestra.   


What’s your bio? Well, I was born and raised in Rohnert Park.  After UCSB I took some classes in Administrative Justice. Then the Rohnert Park Department of Safety sponsored me to go the Police Academy in 2008.  I’m married and I have two little boys, ages five and two.  


Tell me about your background in law enforcement. I’ve been with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office since 2010. My first five or six years I worked patrol, and starting in 2011, I have been in Sonoma. And of course at first I got the graveyard shift, because it’s based on seniority. I started the SRO job in 2016. 


How do you like the SRO assignment? It’s a chance to relate to people you don’t usually get to relate to. When you’re a patrol officer, you relate to someone who is having a bad day – either you’re relating to the victim of a crime, or to someone who just committed one and is not happy to see you. On campus, there are lots of kids interested in me, in what I’m doing. And I enjoy working with them.


Interview by Anna Pier


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