LAKESIDE SRO: FROM HAWAII TO SPRINGDALE
Gomez Zackious grew up in Hawaii. As you would expect, he loved the ocean. He also loved going to the park after school. Why? Because a police officer was always there to make sure it was safe for kids to play.
“I grew up in Maui but there is another side to paradise,” Zackious says. “Where I lived was pretty rough. We would go to the park after school and always felt safe because Officer Hirioka of the Maui police was there. He would talk to us. He would throw the football and shoot baskets with us. I was told later that the drug dealers and bullies stayed away from the park because Officer Hirioka was there. He will never know the influence he had on me.”
Zackious is now serving as a role model, as Officer Hirioka did for him. He is the student resource officer at Lakeside Junior High. He talks with students, just as Officer Hirioka talked to him.”
“This is my fifth year at Lakeside,” Zackious says. “At first the students were a little standoffish. I didn’t know but maybe they had not had positive experiences with the police. I started going to the football games and other events and just starting talking with them. Now they realize I am there to protect them.
“My goal is to make sure the school and everyone in it is protected. Relationships are a plus but my first priority is making sure the kids and staff are safe.”
Zackious has been keeping people safe for a long time. The son of a mother who was from Hawaii and a father from the Marshall Islands, he was always comfortable around water so after graduating from high school he joined the United States Navy.
“I joined the Navy because I wanted to get away but they first stationed me at Pearl Harber,” Zackious recalls. “I wanted to be a cook. So, I entered the culinary arts program. But at basic training they saw me in the pool and couldn’t believe how fast I swam. I was way ahead of everyone else. I played football and baseball in high school but my swimming came from swimming, surfing and snorkeling in the ocean.
“They talked me out of being a cook and put me in search and rescue. I thought that was pretty cool. We jumped out of helicopters and rescued people and got paid to do it. I did that for eight years.
“I was stationed on an aircraft carrier and might be gone for six months at a time. My wife finally told me it was time for me to get out of the Navy because she rarely saw me. The cost of living in Hawaii was high and my wife had relatives in Springdale so we decided to give it a try. When I saw the cost of gasoline, cereal and milk in Springdale compared to Hawaii, we decided to move here. A gallon of milk in Hawaii is $10.”
Once he and his wife had moved to Springdale, he applied for a position on the Springdale police force. He notes, “It was always in the back of my mind to be a policeman because of the impression Officer Hirioka had made on me. He was always there and he made the bad guys disappear.”
Three months after his initial application, Zackious joined the Springdale police.
“I felt right at home,” he says. “Springdale is very diverse with Hispanics from different countries, the Marshallese and other Pacific Islanders. In Maui there were workers from the Philippines, China, Japan, Portugal, Korea and other countries in the sugar cane fields. Our population didn’t have enough workers so they came from everywhere.
“I love the diversity in our department. We have two other Marshallese officers and several Hispanic officers along with our other officers. I am very grateful to live in Springdale where officers are still loved.”
Zackious’ spent his first eight years patrolling in Springdale. Even then he enjoyed working with students.
“I liked patrol,” Zackious explains. “That’s why I wanted to be an officer. Even then I loved working with kids. I liked going to Marshallese homes because it was such a big thing for them to have an officer who was like them.
“Since I liked working with kids I thought it might be my calling. When there was an SRO opening, I applied. I shadowed an SRO for a week and thought it was cool. I also liked the hours. When I was on patrol I never had Saturdays or Sundays off. So, this has been good for my family. I get to have dinner with them every night.”
And, dinner is frequently cooked by Zackious.
“In our culture, the men do the cooking,” Zackious explains. “I love to cook. I am planning to build an underground oven, like we had on the islands. It’s a work in progress. I will cook island food sometimes but my kids were born in Arkansas and they don’t always like island food. In fact, my kids have Arkansas accents and when we visit Hawaii, their cousins wonder why they talk like they do.”
While Zackious enjoys his time at Lakeside and with his family, he was back on patrol for a few months when COVID forced schools to close in March.
“I enjoyed being with the other officers,” he says. “They are awesome. There are some new officers since I became an SRO and it was good to see the ones I remember working with before. Each of us understands what we all go through. I start every day with a little prayer because I don’t know what the day will bring.”
Zackious is an answered prayer for Lakeside Junior High. Students and staff are glad to have him there. He and the entire group of district SROs are among the reasons Springdale Public Schools are #THEChoice.