Unsung Santa Cruz: Officer never imagined working in law enforcement but knew he wanted to make a difference

Policeman smiling and crossing arms.
(Madelyne Rutherford)

School Resource Officer Patrick Ahrens works in Scotts Valley with a job he never thought he would take on. He found himself looking for a life where he knew he was making a positive impact on others, which led to him working in law enforcement as the school resource officer for Scotts Valley High School, with multiple other tasks within the department that involved hard work and determination that at the end of the day keeps our community safe whether people realize it or not.

Editor’s note: Editor’s note: Lookout’s high school journalism challenge invited students to write a profile of a local unsung hero who is making a positive difference in our community, inspired by our popular “Unsung Santa Cruz” series. Our editing team read and reviewed the submissions, publishing the top ten stories. The top three authors are awarded a $500 scholarship.

Growing up, he had no idea what he wanted to do. This man’s name is Patrick Ahrens, and throughout several changes in his career path, he’s finally found the career that truly allows him to fulfill his goal.

When Patrick worked in business, he could not find himself returning to his wife each night with news about how he had positively affected someone’s life. So after a few career changes, he applied to Scotts Valley Police Department. After three years at SVPD, he became the field training officer.

One night, Patrick responded to a call in which the victim required lifesaving efforts. He and his trainee were the first at the scene and began performing CPR on the victim. If not for Patrick’s unhesitating arrival at the scene, the victim would likely have died.

Later in his career, Patrick was assigned the role of school resource officer. When asked why he wanted to work at the high school with the students, Patrick responded, “As SRO, you can make a difference, not just on the law of society but the future of society. Being a resource to them is one of the most valuable things you can do.” He values developing relationships with the students so they know they can come to him anytime if they need help. “Being able to offer guidance and resources is the most important,” he states.

In addition to being SRO, Patrick teaches DARE, a program that educates students on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol and how to avoid them. He wanted to become a DARE officer to positively impact the fifth graders before they began middle school. He’s the juvenile detective for the entire city, runs the Junior Police Academy during the summer, and the retail tobacco compliance division. Most of the community does not realize this officer is taking on extra tasks and responsibilities on top of his everyday casework to benefit others. But “because he’s only around a small portion of the community, which is students, most people don’t know him, so he doesn’t have much exposure to the general community,” says SVPD Captain Jayson Rutherford.

As SRO, the most important aspect is his presence. There have been six potential threat incidents within the school, and Patrick responded to all of them, putting staff and students at ease when he determined that the students were not harmful. In addition, Patrick’s mediation with the students and faculty to develop better solutions than just punishment is impressive.

One of his main intentions is to be more approachable among students than the stereotypical “you’re in trouble” message from a police officer. Patrick has high emotional intelligence, which goes hand in hand with being a good cop. “You have to have a level head and be able to read a situation and make sure the person feels comfortable and that they’re speaking to a human being who has empathy and understanding,” Patrick says.

When asked what the most important thing he does that people don’t understand is, Patrick responds, “Just talking to kids and trying to be a positive influence on them in a non-law enforcement manner. When kids refuse to show up, staff calls me, and I’ll drive to the student’s house and discuss why education is so important and should be a priority.” Patrick always goes above and beyond to assist the students’ needs and ensure they’re safe.

Due to his hard work, he was made employee of the month at the department four or five times on average annually, but he received no recognition. Recently, a Girl Scout troop came into the department requesting to go through a mock crime scene to get detective badges for the group. Patrick willingly put together a mock crime scenario and spent an hour going through it with the scouts, and they earned their badge. He sets up decoy operations and sends people around 18 to 19 years old to test businesses that sell tobacco and ensure they ask for ID. He’s given department tours to Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and does a bicycle safety presentation at the middle school, all on top of the regular casework he has in the department.

This is not recognized, but Patrick does it because he wants to know that he made a difference. His unrecognized dedication makes him the perfect “Unsung Hero” because he benefits the community, even though community members don’t know it. Rutherford says, “He positively impacts the kids and faculty at the high school. He goes the extra mile to make sure needs are met, and questions are answered. He takes the job personally because he lives here and wants the department to succeed and the city safe.” Patrick is very humble and doesn’t call attention to himself; he goes about his job and does it exceptionally well.

There are too many times to recall when Patrick did something purely to help his community, and even though no one knows he did it, he can end each day feeling satisfied with his job.