Mentee Becomes Mentor

Mentee Becomes Mentor

Alum strives to help community as a police officer

I was fortunate enough to have responsible adults looking out for me. Things easily could have gone the other way.

Pedro Espinoza has had his share of long days, with calls at all hours of the night and through the weekends and holidays. Many were dark and some were dangerous, and they stick with him, even though he now spends more time in an office than patrolling the streets.

“Working here has been a place where you can really affect change, be a mentor and role model for other officers,” said Espinoza (BA, Sociology, ’99), who is now a captain after 15 years with the Gilroy Police Department.

That aspiration to set an example for others and be a positive presence in the community is one that he’s had since his childhood, and a dream made possible by his years at Chico State, he said.

Now in his 23rd year in law enforcement, he has worked for three agencies and been part of several special assignments, including SWAT, the gang unit, the narcotics task force, and major undercover cases. He supervises the field operations division and is the SWAT commander.

Recently accepted into the FBI’s Leadership Academy, he has two goals when he returns—become a police chief and pursue his master’s degree.

Pedro Espinoza, a captain in the Gilroy Police Department, is a Chico State graduate with 23 years of law enforcement experience.

Pedro Espinoza, a captain in the Gilroy Police Department, is a Chico State graduate with 23 years of law enforcement experience.

Education has always been an important part of Espinoza’s life. He didn’t know what to expect at Chico State, but he loved it.

“I went in with an interest in criminal justice, but midway I decided to diversify,” he said.

In addition to pursuing a sociology degree, he found jobs he liked on campus, too. He worked in programming for Chico Performances, where he helped bring lecturers, comedians, and music to the University.

Espinoza also was one of the founders of Epsilon Sigma Rho, a multicultural fraternity on campus, and during the summer, he worked for the Educational Opportunity Program and as a resident advisor at Lassen Hall.

“Those jobs paid most of my way through school,” he said. More importantly, they sealed his desire to help students who perhaps didn’t have the role models or opportunities afforded to others. Chico State and his work in law enforcement in Gilroy are a long way from Compton, where he grew up, he admits.

Before college, his world was “an inner-city block surrounded by concrete in South Central Los Angeles. It had a reputation of being an area plagued by drugs and gang violence. The ’80s and ’90s were really the height of racial tension between the Latino and African American communities.”

Good role models saved him.

“I was fortunate enough to have responsible adults looking out for me. Things easily could have gone the other way. A couple of my uncles worked in construction and they dragged me along on weekends to keep me occupied,” he recalled.

Espinoza’s experience at Chico State brought him more than a degree and great part-time jobs. As a student, he met Zenedith Hernandez (BA, Sociology, ’01). They married in 2003—10 years after they met—and both of their daughters, Luzianna and Izela, ages 10 and 13, aspire to go to college when they are old enough, following in the footsteps of their mother and father, who are both first-generation college graduates.

Family comes first, Espinoza said.

“For fun now, I hang out with the kids, shuttle them around. I love to cook,” he said. “And if I get the chance, I go to the golf course. It’s great here—we’re 20 minutes from the ocean.”


—Mary Nugent (BA, Communication, ’77) is a reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record.

 
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