Every day Corporal Jesus De Luna Soto of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office strives to make a difference in the lives of the students attending Seneca Middle School. He wants to be a positive influence on these sixth, seventh, and eighth graders that Officer Keith Brooks was for him nine years ago when he was a student at Walhalla High School. “Officer Brooks became my mentor. He talked to everyone. He was friendly and always wanted to help. I looked up to him. He is the kind of police officer I wanted to be. Today he is a colleague and a friend, and he is still my mentor,” said Jesus.
Now the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Seneca Middle School, Jesus extends the same open door policy to the students he interacts with daily. “I want to make a difference by impacting their lives positively,” he said. He does that first and foremost by making safety his priority. He also knows them by name through personal interaction and by working at JV and Varsity football, basketball, and baseball games. He also is the head JV soccer coach at Seneca High School. “It helps to build relationships. They see me in my police uniform and as a coach. I can mentor them doing two things that I love. We work on their teamwork and leadership skills. It really makes a difference, said Jesus.
He and other SRO officers attend a boys’ summer leadership camp. “I love my job,” said Jesus, who is married with two children. From the time he was in the fifth grade experimenting with a fingerprinting kit, Jesus wanted to be a police officer who made a difference in his community. But there were some obstacles along the way. Jesus, who is 25, moved with his parents from Nogales Sonora, Mexico, to the United States (Oconee County) when he was nine years old. None of them spoke a word of English. “It was very scary, and there were challenges,” said Jesus, who entered public school in Oconee County in the third grade. “It wasn’t easy. I struggled with the language barrier and with the cultural differences, not to mention making friends,” he said. Afternoons were spent in Rosetta Stone classes where he taught himself to master the English language. “Teachers were patient with me and worked with me. I was dedicated to learning the language.” It wasn’t until he was in the sixth grade that he felt confident enough to raise his hand and answer a question in class. “I’m proud to say I graduated from West-Oak High School with a 3.0 GPA,” said Jesus, adding, “I knew I would need a college degree to do the job I wanted to do.”
After graduating, he spent two years working in a production job before entering Tri-County’s Criminal Justice program. “Tri-County was so affordable. I graduated with no debt thanks to lottery tuition assistance and a Pell grant. Instructors brought to the classroom real-world knowledge from working in law enforcement,” he said.
Prior to graduation in 2015, he participated in departmental mock interviews with area law enforcement officers which resulted in multiple job offers. “The interview process was most helpful,” said Jesus, who accepted a job with Clemson University’s Police Department. He received the 2016 Clemson University Officer of the Year award, as well as a recognition of outstanding effort in 2017. Two months before he secured the job at Clemson, he became a U.S. citizen. He began working as an SRO a year ago and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree online at Anderson University. The plan is to continue on with a masters’ degree.