When students return to school this fall, a new officer will be
making the rounds
– and she has a big job to fill. But with several years of
experience working in the gang unit with the Gilroy Police
Department and as a juvenile intervention officer, Cherie Somavia
is prepared for Aug. 29 when the 2005-06 school year officially
Gilroy – When students return to school this fall, a new officer will be making the rounds – and she has a big job to fill. But with several years of experience working in the gang unit with the Gilroy Police Department and as a juvenile intervention officer, Cherie Somavia is prepared for Aug. 29 when the 2005-06 school year officially begins.
Students across Gilroy Unified School District have long recognized Mike Terasaki as the man in blue patrolling campuses and maintaining order. For the past six years he has served as the district’s School Resource Officer, a position that requires patience, approachability and respect.
“Mike did such an outstanding job, it’s going to be a tough act to follow,” said Somavia.
On the surface, the School Resource Officer is the friendly face welcoming students to and from school each day. But the officer also represents the Gilroy Police Department and offers a subconscious level of comfort to students.
Somavia’s presence will serve as a stabilizing force on school campuses. Though primarily based at Gilroy High School, Somavia will service all Gilroy public schools, responding to any emergencies or intervention problems that arise.
“I believe in law enforcement, if you’re going to affect anyone, it’s going to be children and juveniles,” Somavia explained. “I’ve always loved working with juveniles – that’s one of the reasons I worked with them so long.”
Her position as a juvenile intervention officer involved talking with at-risk youth and their families, in an attempt to steer them towards a better future.
“My whole philosophy is respect,” she said. “I believe (that) no matter what you do in life, everyone deserves respect.”
Somavia has been a member of GPD for six years, working as part of the Anti-Crime Team and heading the city’s anti-graffiti efforts. Previously, she served another 18 months with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office working in prisons.
“I’ve wanted to be a police officer since I was in high school,” the 39-year-old said. “Since I pretty much grew up here, I wanted to return to work in my community.”
A Gilroy native, Somavia’s face will be familiar to some students this year. In the past, she coached basketball and softball part-time for 13 years in both Gilroy and Morgan Hill, five of those years at GHS. And she still would if her schedule allowed it.
When Somavia was hired and went through her chief’s interview, she expressed interest in working with juveniles. Six years later, she finally has her chance.
“Any crime related incidents on campuses, I will be in charge of,” she said. But that’s only part of the job. Somavia will use her experiences in the gang unit and juvenile intervention on campuses to help prevent problems before they start.
While she will be present during any lockdowns or arrests that may arise, the position is a lot of counseling, truancy sweeps, and working with parents and school officials to keep kids in school and on the right track. Serving as the School Resource Officer means being visible on campus and becoming a face students can learn to trust.
“It’s not always dealing with the enforcement side,” she explained.
The School Resource Officer position was created in 1999 by GPD and is designed to be on a rotational year-to-year basis.
But only one officer has held the position before Somavia, and that’s the city’s most senior officer, Mike Terasaki, who will retire in October from patrol.
Originally officers were not going to hold the position for longer than five years and request leave after one. But don’t expect Somavia to jump at the chance.
“By no means do I want to get out of it after one year – I’m very much looking forward to it,” she said smiling in the center of the GHS quad.