Story by Hayley Lawson.
It is important to highlight the people who work every day to keep us safe and their impact on our daily lives. Since 2016, Palomar College Police Chief Chris Moore has remained the face of the Palomar College Police Department. He outlines his commitment to his job and staff in his message available on the Palomar College Police Department website.
“The officers of our department represent our diversity on campus, you know, we’re probably over 50% Latino/Latina dominant, and so I’m very proud of that because it represents the college, and I think people should know that,” Chief Moore said in an afternoon interview in the PCPD.
One member of the police force includes Officer Jesus Montes.
Montes offered a strong handshake and welcomes me into a conference room, located within the Palomar College Police Department. The room fits 10 to 12 tables with a chair at each one and a podium at the front. Palomar procedures and police protocol posters cover the walls.
Montes grew up in the Oceanside/Carlsbad area where he was born at Tri-City Medical Center and attended the Carlsbad Unified School District system until 2005 when he graduated from Carlsbad High School. He grew up with his two younger sisters and parents in a small home and recalls fond memories of his pet chihuahua. He chuckled as he recalled the time he brought the dog to school for show and tell.
“It was a very special dog,” he said smiling, almost as if he was watching the memories play in his head.
Right after high school, Montes began his journey with Palomar College at age 18 when he first enrolled in classes and remained unsure of exactly what he wanted to pursue. He found himself in Professor Barrett’s criminal justice class and became more interested in the topic with every class he took. He recalls Professor Peterson, another criminal justice professor, being an influential figure in the early steps of his career.
“And then I remember one time, um, Mr, Barrett said that Palomar College police was hiring for dispatch, and I thought yeah okay well, that was probably the third semester I was here,” Montes shrugged. “So I thought why not.” He applied for the job shortly after.
A dispatch job entails connecting and transferring calls from students, professors, and visitors to the correct location. Whether it be an emergency or even just a person looking for a certain classroom or building on campus. Montes waited over seven months before he received a call from the dispatch coordinator.
He recalls his days of working at Boomers in Vista as a kitchen manager and at Discount Tire, now known as America’s Tire. “I remember I was coming out of Discount Tire, it was a Friday, when I see my phone started ringing so I picked up and, um, it was the dispatch coordinator who was calling me…so yeah I was 18 when I started working here.”
During his time at Palomar, Montes was able to obtain his associate’s degree in Criminal Justice and would later transfer to San Diego State University to complete his bachelor’s degree in the same major. At SDSU, Montes secured an internship that gave him real-world, federal-level experience with the U.S. Marshall.
“I was assigned with the fugitive task force, which was pretty interesting. We would go to the border, sometimes even cross the border to pick up the wanted person, and then the officers from here would communicate with officers in Mexico,” Montes recalled his experiences working in that environment at age 24.
Before he graduated from San Diego State, Montes was offered a full-time position as a community service officer, or CSO, at Palomar College and has worked for the department since he was 18 years old: five years on dispatch, seven as a CSO, and the last two to three years as a reserve police officer.
Montes’ list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. He recently completed Palomar College’s Police Academy program, consisting of training in criminal laws, search and seizure laws, driving tactics and everything in between. He explains the rigorous schedule of waking up at dawn, preparing for the academy and being in formation by 6 a.m.
“Saturdays were very long days, from 5 to 5,” Montes said.
The Police Academy prides itself on creating “Professionalism by Training” and offers a three-module course that prepares trainees to enter the workforce. Montes, a pre-existing employee of the police department, gained firsthand experience as as a dispatch for the PCPD before being hired on as an officer.
Officer Gerard Perez, another Palomar Police Academy alumni who graduated in 1989, was the first officer hired at Palomar College at the inception of its police department in 1991. He has worked on a number of community outreach events alongside Montes including “Coffee with a Cop”, an event that began in 2016 to promote the department’s “relationship-based policing” tactics.
Relationship-based policing, according to the PCPD website, follows six key pillars: building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education, and officer wellness and safety.
Officer Perez had no doubt that Montes follows each of these six values on a daily basis. “Relationship-based policing is not something that we just read in a book and we just said ‘Hey let’s implement it, it’s always been a part of, I think organically, it’s been part of the department,’” Perez continued via a phone interview. “They (the district) want our officers to be engaging, and he is the perfect individual.”
With campus safety being of the utmost concern, the PCPD is responsible for protecting and serving students, the staff, and the administration. Although Palomar College was established in 1946, the PCPD came to fruition a surprising 45 years later in 1991.
A police department can be found on every Palomar campus with 11 peace officers patrolling the communities of each area—not only ensuring the safety of the community, but actively reducing crime through community partnerships and events.
Perez recalled the days when he first met Montes in 1997. “He was a very in-tune individual, and so I thought we had a very special guy in him,” he continued. “Because he would come and ask do you need me to help, he would just jump in and help.”
Perez explains Montes’ willingness to help in any situation that was presented, whether it meant changing a flat tire, to setting up equipment, to eventually assisting Perez in conducting field interviews in his later years on the team.
Along with the PCPD’s own community outreach events, Perez and Montes have partnered on a special collaboration with English Spanish Language instructor Gary Sosa to provide open discussions to international students from all over the world, including Jamaica, Honduras and Guatemala. In an email interview, Sosa explained how the program began six years ago when Perez contacted Sosa to look for a way to create a more approachable and less stigmatized police department presence on campus and to educate students who may lack exposure to law enforcement.
“…You know why do we stop you, or why do we turn the lights on, why did two officers come up to the car, so I felt it was imperative that they needed to be educated on our law enforcement system,” Perez said.
Being bilingual, Montes and Perez are can relay important information and clarify questions to anyone who may be confused or misled. “Officers Perez and Montes answer every question that is asked, even the tough ones,” Sosa continued. “When they don’t know the answers, they have always gotten back to me with an answer to pass on to the students.”
With programs like these at Palomar, police officers are practicing relationship-based policing and making a difference in many lives around them. Montes recalled a student who made such a difference.
“A couple years back there was a parent, a Hispanic parent, that came and he kind of wanted his teenage boy to follow the same path (become an officer), but he (the student) could relate more to me because he had a language barrier,” he continued. “That kid did reach out to me at one point, you know, I’m hoping he went the right way and achieved his dreams.”
When asked about whether or not Montes believes there is a misconception surrounding the officers of Palomar College, he mentioned that some people on campus give him “looks.” He believes it is because of the uniform. With police officers and their practices often under scrutiny, Montes believes that the PCPD remains transparent in everything they do.
“I think it’s important for everyone to know what we do…that we’re not just a police officer but also a human,” Montes said.
Perez stated that he would not be surprised if Montes became the next police chief of Palomar College and looks back fondly on watching him become the person he is today. Based on the conversations had regarding Montes, it is clear that he is a humble man, who takes pride in his daily duties on the Palomar College campus and in his own life. We can only hope that more officers like Montes decide to dedicate their lives to the betterment of the community and to put in the extra work and effort that it takes to make an impact on the lives of others.
“He is Palomar…he’s truly a story,” Chief Moore said. “If he was a doctor, I think he’d be going to foreign countries. If he was a plumber, I think he sometimes wouldn’t charge people. I mean he’s just truly a kind soul.”