They say elephants have the best memories. We disagree, as our Police Lieutenant, George Gongora, can remember things we are amazed at. His ability to recall and reflect on small and significant incidents of his life provide an insight into how he serves at UC Merced.
Lieutenant Gongora has watched move-in day take place for numerous years. He observes parents and loved ones say goodbye to their student. There are a variety of visible emotions on move-in day. Some are crying, others high fiving because they have plans to turn their student’s bedroom into a gym or home office. What resonates with Lieutenant Gongora is an additional responsibility he and our department have for the loved ones entrusted to the University.
As a father of twin boys in elementary school, he has clear memories of them next to his wife right after they were born. He anticipates that memory will never fade. Lieutenant Gongora realizes parents driving away from move in day are still looking at their child as their baby. He takes great pride in filling in as a positive role model for students while they are receiving their higher education. It is a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
Finding ways to support students is part of who he is as a Lieutenant. He pays attention when students eat huge amounts of food because it reminds him of food security issues on campus. Lieutenant Gongora attended a meeting on food security years ago. He knew he was not being asked to “guard the food” but had no idea of the number of students struggling to have enough food to eat.
If you see him at the Taco Bell drive-thru it is because he frequently purchases the party packs of tacos to share with anyone needing a bite to eat. A shoplifting call related to food is not just a theft call. Lieutenant Gongora wants others to look at the totality of the circumstances and connect hungry students to resources instead of only focusing on criminal action for theft.
Reflecting on his own college experience keeps him connected to student issues that will always exist. He recalled one night when he was finishing up a final project to complete his master’s degree. He was nearly finished when he realized his computer “ate” his final project the night before it was due.
Lieutenant Gongora was trying to start over from scratch when he overheard his Nextel phone going non-stop. Merced Police Officer Stephan Gray was killed in the line of duty. His heart sunk. Regardless of how sad he felt, he knew he needed to pull an “all-nighter” to complete his project. As the sun came up, he finally finished. He finds himself sharing with students their minds and bodies are capable of more even when they feel depleted. Extreme circumstances challenge us, but we can keep going.
In college, he had to dial 9-1-1 twice in one night. He was walking outside of his apartment complex when a deranged subject started to scream at him. Lieutenant Gongora tried to return to his apartment, but the person was running toward him and yelling threats. The dispatcher implied they did not believe what happened when he was trying to ask for an officer to respond for a report. This left a lasting impression of how some calls for service might sound odd, but to respond to calls with seriousness and empathy. The second call was for a fire that left some of his friends temporarily displaced for the evening. Lieutenant Gongora let them stay at his apartment for the evening until the fire scene was cleared up.
Lieutenant Gongora worked during college as a Parking Enforcement Officer at CSU Stanislaus. This was a natural progression because he was a police Explorer during high school. His next job as an investigative assistant at the Merced County District Attorney’s office helped shape his future in more ways than his career. Lieutenant Gongora met his wife, who is a District Attorney Investigator there today.
A significant day in 2004 marked the start of his career in law enforcement. He attended a career fair in an effort to be hired as a sponsored recruit in the police academy. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s office had an emergency requiring a deputy to fill in for the recruitment team. The Deputy didn’t have any brochures, equipment, or things to impress recruits. This stood out to Lieutenant Gongora. He wrote his name down on a notepad to be contacted by the recruiter but did not initially complete an application.
Several days after the initial filing deadline, he received a call encouraging him to apply. Immediately afterward he received the call, drove to the county personnel office to pick up the “paper” application, filled it out on a typewriter, and the rest is history. Lieutenant Gongora appreciates the agency giving him the chance he needed at the time he needed it.
Lieutenant Gongora wanted to be closer to home in Merced. He took a chance to be part of the founding members of UC Merced Police. It felt like the right decision because he could blend his previous knowledge from working on a University campus and the Investigative position to help build a new department. He became involved in as many aspects of the agency as possible.
Several years ago, Lieutenant Gongora began coaching youth soccer with his wife. He was initially hesitant because of his lack of playing and coaching experience. Although the last time he played soccer himself was when he was very young, coaching turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences he has ever had. He was able to coach his own kids while also helping other kids.
After the Spring 2019 season ended, one of the players greeted him at a local gym. Lieutenant Gongora knew this player had experienced many life challenges at such a young age. The player asked Lieutenant Gongora if he was going to coach again because he wanted to play on his team again. Lieutenant Gongora was humbled by this request and knew he wanted to coach again so he could continue to help make a difference in the lives of more kids.
Lieutenant Gongora has taken an interest in cooking. Although he would never claim to be a master chef, he does enjoy cooking for his family. Some of his favorite things to cook include carne asada, burgers, chicken, and fish. Lieutenant Gongora appreciates the work it takes to prepare a meal and recognizes the need to help others who do not have the same access to food as many of us do.
As the University has grown, Lieutenant Gongora adapts to changes and challenges. His patience, commitment, and relatable experiences enhance the police department to provide support in a way that serves our students, staff, faculty, and visitors at UC Merced. Say hello to him when you see him around!