The burglar alarms are a constant in one of San Jose’s crime ”hot spots.”
The Santee neighborhood has been a target for gangs and thieves for decades. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad, some apartment owners have hired their own armed, private security guards to help protect the tenants
“I remember being a little boy here and going to the playground where somebody got stabbed," said Christian Camarillo, who grew up in Santee.
Camarillo is now a veteran San Jose police officer.
“Yeah it was a rough neighborhood then, and it’s a rough neighborhood now,” said Camarillo, as he walked the streets of Santee, looking at old landmarks.
Detectives still haven’t solved San Jose’s 20th homicide of 2013. An innocent bystander was shot and killed as he waited for a ride to work across the street from Santee Elementary School.
So, Camarillo is going back inside one of his old classrooms at Santee, not to investigate, but to engage young minds.
“You're going to be the defender, you're the bully, and you’re the victim," Camarillo told the students as he began a role-playing exercise with them.
The San Jose Police Department has embarked on a pilot project at Santee, putting uniformed officers in the classroom to teach 5th and 6th graders about gangs, bullying and self-esteem.
“It’s something we're starting here at Santee. But we'd like to bring it to the entire city," SJPD Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick said.
Officer Phil White leads a weekly class, engaging elementary-age students in active role playing.
“This is the right age, especially in our neighborhood. It’s a very impacted area with so much violence and poverty," Santee principal Maria Reyes said.
The police department hopes getting to these kids now will be the key to keeping them out of trouble in the future.
But, for Officer Camarillo, it’s a bit more personal. It’s about breaking the chain of violence in his old barrio.
“I’m still proud to say this was my neighborhood, where I came from,” Camarillo said. “It’s one of the reasons I got involved in this program.”