People in your Neighborhood: La Jolla security guard Russ Jenkins seeks to promote safer community on patrol

Security guard Russ Jenkins often patrols the 1100 block of Prospect Street in La Jolla.
(Provided by Russ Jenkins)

During his patrols on the 1100 block of Prospect Street, Allied Universal security guard Russ Jenkins has a mission to make people feel safer by promoting interaction that fosters a feeling of community — whether that means being a constant presence that people can approach as they walk the streets or providing treats to neighborhood dogs.

“I hope I help contribute to the sense of community,” he said. “I like getting to know people and learning their stories. There are people I have gotten to know quite well, and I don’t want anything to happen to any of them, so I’m always paying attention. When I get to know people, that’s one less person I have to worry about.”

He added that this approach has given people the sense of security for which Jenkins strives. “I like when people tell me they feel safe with me there,” he said. “I got a huge box of cookies for Christmas because someone told me I make them feel safer. But the thing is, we can be safe if we get to know each other. So let’s get to know each other.”

To do this, Jenkins often finds himself engaging in conversation with locals and tourists during his shifts, typically in front of the CJ Charles Jewelers store on Prospect Street.

While Jenkins is now rooted in the San Diego area and can enmesh himself in the community, getting here was years in the making. After 25 years off and on living in Texas, Jenkins needed a career change and a life change.

“I worked in the criminal justice system and related fields — such as being a probation officer and social worker for HIV-positive homeless parolees — for 20 years. I would see people in jail every day; some just made poor judgments or had serious mental illness, and I saw people that did terrible, terrible things. I had to go through double doors with armed guards every day and one day I decided I couldn’t do it anymore,” he explained.

Jenkins went to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in social sciences, completing his thesis on liberalism with the plan to become a teacher. But obtaining a teaching position in Texas when your specialty is in liberalism wasn’t easy, he joked.

“I woke up one day and started looking online for the most liberal city I could find, and I found San Francisco,” he said. “I had every intention of teaching but ended up getting odd jobs here and there. I developed health problems and needed a job with stable healthcare. I researched popular jobs in San Francisco and jobs in the tech industry came back. I barely had a cell phone then, so I knew that wouldn’t work. The next job on the list was security. That felt familiar to me, so I started working for UPS, but I had an entirely different idea as to what security was. I thought I needed to treat it like a jail. Someone sat me down to talk about what security is, and I learned about the customer service aspect of it.”

After a while, Jenkins decided to pursue law school to become an attorney. He took and passed the law school entrance exam LSAT and was accepted to a law school in San Diego.

From there, “a comedy of errors” took place, he said.

“My paperwork didn’t come through and it turned out I didn’t have a place to live,” he said. “It became untenable to get all my affairs in order and study. So I made the decision to focus on work and I went back to security.”

Having struggled with a place to live when he got to San Diego, Jenkins engaged with local homeless services to help land on his feet.

Because of that, Jenkins said he has “a unique perspective” on how to approach homeless people who might be in the area. “I understand, being a person who studied social sciences, there is fear of change. When you get used to those ways of living — even if they seem horrible to us — [people] don’t want to change,” he said. “When I see a [homeless] person in La Jolla, I let them understand that if they want help, I can refer them to someone.”

No matter who Jenkins is talking to during his La Jolla patrol, he said he appreciates that time.

“I make friends with people, from the kids all the way to the seniors,” Jenkins said. “I enjoy the people of La Jolla.”

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