Murrieta police Officer Ontario Williams spent eight years as a San Diego police officer, the last three working with gangs. He now splits his time as a school resource officer at Shivela Middle School and Murrieta Mesa High School.
Referred to as SROs, there are five school resource officers assigned to middle and high schools in Murrieta.
"We are there for school safety; everyone knows what happened at Columbine and that is probably what gave the SRO program a little speed," Williams said.
About 100 parents of middle and high schoolers turned out Thursday at Murrieta Mesa High School for Parent Safety Awareness Night, where they heard from Williams as well as Murrieta police Sgt. Markellus Reid, who spoke on current drug trends.
Reid said drugs are usually the gateway to other crimes, and because he heads up the police department's narcotics Special Enforcement Team, he is familiar with what Murrieta youth can come in contact with.
"Part of it is peer pressure; part of it is curiousity," Reid told parents.
Parents were shown photos of ecstasy pills and other drugs, such as oxycontin, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine.
According to Ken Goltara, dean of students at Murrieta Mesa, students who do bring drugs on campus are getting more clever. Goltara said he found marijuana stuffed inside a hollowed-out highlighter. He advised parents to look through their children's backpacks, including in secret compartments.
"I just don't want that to be your kids," Goltara said.
Officials know some of these trends to be true based on results of the California Healthy Kids Survey. Results showed that three percent of seventh-graders, 13 percent of ninth-graders and 22 percent of 11th graders in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District had smoked marijuana within the last 30 days when the last survey was taken in 2009.
Fifteen percent of fifth-graders admitted to using inhalants such as oven spray. As for alcohol, 11 percent of seventh-graders, 24 percent of ninth-graders and 38 percent of 11th-graders admitted to drinking five or more drinks within two hours.
Drugs and alcohol were not the only issues officials touched on.
Murrieta Valley Unified School District Safe Schools Director Wayne Sakamoto spoke of online safety. He advised parents of sites like Chatroulette.com and Omegle.com, popular sites among young people where they can video chat with strangers.
"Remember before they got to middle school, when we said 'don't talk to strangers?'" was the question Sakamoto posed to parents.
While organizers were impressed with the turnout of parents, they wish there would have been more.
Student Support Coordinator Dean Lesicko provided resources for the parents who were in attendance. Through the district's Breakthrough Program, parents whose children are at risk can schedule a 90-minute session with district officials.
"Then we try to hook you up with services we think with be helpful to you," Lesicko said.
Parents Toni Valenzuela and Julie Harvey-Masiel have sons who attend Dorothy McElhinney Middle School together. Next year they will attend Vista Murrieta High School.
"It definitely is an eye opener," Valenzuela said about what she'd learned over the course of the evening. "It is good to know there is a support system, there are resources. I enjoyed hearing that we can come and talk to the school resource officers, that they have an open door policy."
"I definitely thought it was worth coming to," Harvey-Masiel said. "Anything that helps you identify with your kids is worth it."