Santa Cruz County’s finest

A Santa Cruz County Sheriff's vehicle at Aptos High School.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Diamond Technology Institute student Brandon Castillo talked to Javier Gonzalez and German Fernandez about the journey to becoming Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies.

Editor’s note: Lookout worked with students at Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Diamond Technology Institute charter high school through the school year. As a demonstration project, supported by Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, Lookout provided the school’s students and teachers complete access to Lookout’s local news and information, which has been used in several classes. This spring, Lookout staffers worked with Diamond Technology juniors, who interviewed Watsonville community members to create their own version of Lookout’s ongoing Unsung Santa Cruz series. Today through Thursday, we feature the students’ contributions. For more information on our expanding student engagement programs, both in high schools and at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College, check out our Student Access page.

Who are the police officers who swear an oath to protect the residents of Santa Cruz County and put their life on the line every shift? Let me tell you: I interviewed two decorated deputies with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, and this is what I found out.

I contacted the sheriff’s office through social media, specifically Instagram, and I explained who I was and why I would like to meet with one of their deputies, and they replied with amazing news. They said of course and that they actually had two deputies who would love to sit down with me for an interview, so I set a time and date and got to work. Waiting for the day to come by was torture.

The day was finally here and I opened my computer, started the Zoom meeting and met deputies Javier Gonzalez and German Fernandez. A few details about them are that they both started in the academy together, then as rookies in the Field Training Programs (FTO), then working patrol. They are currently working in the patrol division of the department under Commander Gerardo Castillo. They started in the department in 2018 and currently patrol the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County, rotating blocks to patrol throughout the weeks.

Over 85% of crimes in the United States are solved on patrol; you can say patrol is one of the most crucial and most important assignment an officer of the law can have — so for Deputies Gonzalez and Fernandez and many other deputies, the citizens of Santa Cruz call upon them to protect and serve to the best of their ability.

Deputy Gonzalez grew up not wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement, but instead a career in manufacturing and engineering, which is a high demand job in his home country. But when he migrated to the United States, he grew to like different career choices. One was law enforcement, and he dropped out of college and applied for a number of different police departments, including the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. Long story short, he got accepted and went through rigorous training and tests, becoming a first-generation deputy county sheriff in his family. He is now in the running for sheriff corporal of the patrol division.

Deputy Fernandez also grew up not wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement, not until freshman year of high school, anyway. He wanted a career in sports and entertainment, more specifically to be a professional soccer player. He played soccer nonstop with friends and family growing up, and he couldn’t see himself doing anything else until high school, when he was exposed to law enforcement. He fell in love with it and pursued a career in it. He didn’t go to college, but he applied to all six departments in Santa Cruz County and got into three, one being the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. He accepted the offer to attend the sheriff’s office training program in Sacramento at the same time as Deputy Gonzalez.

When I asked Deputies Gonzalez and Fernandez what they enjoyed most about their job and role in our community, they both had the same thing to say: “When we are called, we usually see people on the worst days of their lives, so to help our fellow citizens resolve problems is the best reward.”

There are only 100 sworn-in police officers in the greater Santa Cruz County area, and these officers are put to the test every shift, every call and every second they wear that uniform because Santa Cruz County is estimated to have 271,000 citizens and an estimated 162 square miles. But against all odds, murder statistics are down, citizen complaints are down, officer-involved shootings are down, overdoses are down, and this year mental health-related deaths are down. This is because of the hard work and dedication of our communities service members — we owe more than we think to these hard working individuals.