LOS LUNAS—Mark Garcia said when he was assigned to be a school resource officer with Los Lunas Schools shortly after completing the police academy, he was less than excited.
“My initial intention was just to be a street police officer, just a patrol guy, detective division, whatever comes up in a career,” Garcia said. “As a lot of the other guys were getting night shifts, wing shift, patrol shift. I was assigned to the school and I didn’t really know how to take it.”
Now he realizes it was his calling and the “best job (he’s) ever had.”
Garcia, the first SRO hired with Los Lunas Schools, clocked in his last day at Los Lunas Middle School on April 30, retiring after 23 years.
“In 1999, the SRO program was still a brand new thing,” Garcia said. “It was mostly going into the school, being enforcement — the basic role of a police officer, but within a school setting.
“As the years transpired, it became more of a mentoring (role). You’re a partner with the school, you’re a partner with the kids, with the staff, with the parents.”
Garcia said his favorite part of the position was being able to mentor, guide and lead students along the way. In addition to being an SRO, Garcia also had stints as a varsity softball coach, gang-resistance mentor and a Students Against Destructive Decisions instructor.
During his two decades as an SRO, he left the program twice but found his way back both times. During his time away from the schools, Garcia worked in several capacities with the police department, such as a patrolman, detective and “just as a regular police officer.”
“It was my calling; I found my way back.” Garcia said. “I got to do a lot of other stuff and I still got to pursue the SRO program again. It’s just where I needed to be.”
When the school district made the decision to hire their own school resource officers, Garcia was the first in line and the first to be hired by the district.
Although he loved his position with Los Lunas Schools, Garcia said his time to retire had come with the COVID-19 pandemic playing greatly into his final decision.
“COVID was really hard with the kids not being around and that’s just what used to always drive me,” he said. “That time away from the kids, although we did do house checks and homework deliveries, it wasn’t the same mentoring that I was used to.”
Now that he is retired, Garcia said his plans for the future are still being decided, but he won’t be down for long. After taking some time to rest and spend time with family, he hopes to fish and do other things he wasn’t able to do while working full-time.