Young adults that balance the burdens of both school and work are no rarity.
Whether it’s having an internship, working at Red Radish or babysitting through the school year, each job comes with its own obstacles.
Economics senior Alberto Sanchez faces a particularly unique challenge as he manages being a full-time student and cop.
“I’m a first generation college student. My parents came from Mexico. Growing up, I felt animosity between the community I lived in and the police,” Sanchez said. “I work on the south side of my hometown where it’s predominantly Hispanic, so I like bridging the cultural understanding between law enforcement and the community.”
Sanchez began the strenuous process of becoming a police officer in 2013 and currently works for a department in Northern California.
“I like throwing the ‘bad guy’ in jail; that’s my way of helping out my community,” Sanchez said. “Don’t get me wrong, driving fast with sirens is also fun. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
When Sanchez first became an officer, he was taking classes at a city college, but after being accepted to Cal Poly, he knew he couldn’t pass up the academic opportunity.
“There’s a misconception that law enforcement is a mindless job, but that’s not the case,” Sanchez said. “One thing you’ll find among command ranks is that they all have undergraduate degrees and many of them have their master’s as well.”
Because Sanchez is working for a department located several hours away, he usually works only two weekends each month. This means that depending on his Friday schedule, he may have to leave class and immediately head to work. Sanchez can work up to 40 hours in one weekend as an officer.
“If I’m working at night, coffee keeps me going. I get out of my car and do some push-ups at times,” Sanchez said. “The toughest hours are between 4:30 and 6 a.m., which is the slowest time. It picks up again when people start going to work.”
Sanchez shared that the biggest obstacle with juggling school and work is time management.
“My shifts are longer than most college jobs are,” Sanchez said. “I work over three hours away. The nature of the job is also just non-traditional for a college student.”
For Sanchez, the stress he carries from work goes far deeper than what most college students endure. Just because he’s off duty at times, that does not necessarily mean he feels that way.
“There have been a couple calls that can’t be easily forgotten and they do keep me up at night; it gets hard. My soft spot is kids’ suffering,” Sanchez said. “When you hear that stuff on the news, it’s never nearly as bad as it is in person. There are things out there that people should never see.”
One thing Sanchez has reflected upon since his work with the police department started is that most of what people stress over is unimportant. He applies this mentality to his life as a student.
“I’ve learned not to stress too much about little things anymore, like finals,” Sanchez said. “In my job, you have moments when you’re not sure you’re going to make it out alive.”
While Sanchez is off-duty, however, he sets aside his badge and blends in with the rest of the students.
“I think students would treat me differently if they knew I was a cop. I’ve only mentioned it a few times in class when it comes up in conversations,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez is not naïve to the fact that some have expressed increased hostility toward officers, especially recently.
“Generally there is a greater divide nowadays,” he said. “You’re either ‘for the blue,’ or you’re not. Most people out there are good, including both cops and non-cops.”
Even when Sanchez is off-duty, he always tries to do the right thing. He notes that his school friends are law-abiding citizens.
“If you’re smoking a joint or whatever, I won’t do anything,” Sanchez said. “Drinking and driving is a big deal, so I’ll call 9-1-1 and report the vehicle.”
Nonetheless, without his badge, Sanchez must live as an honest civilian, and not a law enforcer.