The memories that helped launch his career are sharp. When he was a child, after Sunday services, a police officer who attended Reuben Figueroa’s church allowed the boy to play in his patrol car. He even let him turn on the lights and siren, planting the seeds for Figueroa’s future career in law enforcement.
“Something as simple as playing with the lights had a positive impact on me,” Figueroa says. “I knew I wanted to be a police officer and make a change in my community. I wanted to be that change.”
Now, thanks to the education he received at Lorain County Community College and the support of law enforcement and Lorain City Schools officials, Figueroa is finding new ways to make the community safer. And he’s the one letting kids play in his cruiser, hoping to inspire the next generation of law enforcement.
“I try to be as approachable as possible and show kids that they don’t have to be afraid of the police,” he says. “You could be a police officer one day. You can sit in the front seat and make a change in your community.”
Pursuing the dream
With his childhood dream in mind, Figueroa began taking classes at LCCC through its College Credit Plus program, and at 16, graduated from Admiral King High School in 2008 with three college classes under his belt. He continued taking classes at LCCC — where his mother and two sisters also attended — allowing him to stay close to his community and continue building the ties that would be so important in his career.
“My goal was to serve my community, so it was important to keep that close-knit relationship,” he says.
He graduated with an associate degree in criminal justice from LCCC in 2010, ready for a career as a safety officer in the Lorain City Schools. His familiarity with the school district made him a great fit for the position.
“They needed someone who knew the kids,” Figueroa says. “It was a unique challenge, because some of the kids I sent to the office would say, ‘Come on, man, you know me,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, but this is my job now.’ It helped mold my character to be in a position where I had authority.”
Figueroa remained in that role until he turned 21 — the minimum age required to take the state police exam. The Lorain Police Department hired him in 2013, and there, he drew from his LCCC education every day.
“The courses at LCCC exposed me to more in-depth training and insight into the technical and legal sides of police work,” says Figueroa. “This drastically helped me to be aware of case law, investigative techniques and community relations.”
Retired Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera says Figueroa’s background and personality served the department well.
“He was a great police officer because he had that balance — understanding our role as law enforcement, but also being extremely compassionate,” says Rivera. “He’s absolutely capable of being tough when he needs to be, but he does it in a way that people still have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
And although he loved being on the streets, when the police department needed a resource officer at Lorain High School, Figueroa jumped at the chance to get back into the school district.
“They said, ‘We’re going to put you in there to really work with the kids,’ so that was a great opportunity to make a difference,” he says.
And it’s a role he was made for.
“He has connected with so many kids on an individual basis and let them know that they have value,” Rivera says.
Setting safety standards
After several years in a job he loved, Figueroa learned of an opening for safety coordinator in the Lorain City Schools. Jeff Hawks, chief operations officer for the district, says he couldn’t wait to hire Figueroa.
“He was the best fit for it, because he has a wonderful relationship with the community and our kids,” he says.
Today Figueroa supervises 18 safety officers and sets security policies and procedures for the district. By leveraging his relationships with the police department, staff and students, he serves a critical role.
“I went from school resource officer working with the kids to being a community resource, working more with the community,” he says. “The district needed someone in charge of safety and security, who writes policies, who supervises all of the safety officers. It’s my responsibility to manage safety and security for the entire Lorain School District.”
Initially, he operated under the Lorain Police Department. Realizing that Figueroa’s police connection was vital to his administrative role, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office deputized him in September 2019, holding his commission and authorizing him to operate as a law enforcement official throughout the county. That made him the first licensed law enforcement official to serve as safety coordinator in district history.
“The continued collaboration among Lorain City Schools, the Lorain Police Department and the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office has made my current role so much more effective and a personal blessing,” he says. “I genuinely care for the kids in our community and want to see them succeed. The opportunity to keep them safe is truly an honor.”
He says that while it’s rewarding, the role of safety coordinator is the most challenging of his career.
“But it’s also extremely important and dear to my heart,” he says. “Working with youth has always been a genuine passion of mine, and caring for their safety, directly being able to mentor and manage people who do this work day in and day out, has been the ultimate reward.”
Making a difference
Although his new role keeps him busy — along with his son who turns 5 in March and twins who turn 2 in April — Figueroa is continuing his education. He is one course shy of earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration and management from Liberty University, on track to graduate this spring.
Then he plans to pursue his MBA from Western Governors University through LCCC’s University Partnership program.
“My career goal is focusing on at-risk youth who need intensive mentoring to get them off the streets and keep them safe,” says Figueroa, who dreams of building a community youth outreach center. “I know how important it is for kids to have someone in their life who genuinely cares about their safety and success.”
And he hopes those in his community see him as that person.
“I have been able to comfort families, students and even staff that are going through so much the world doesn’t know, and I would hope that my involvement makes a difference in their struggles, to know someone cares and that they are not alone,” he says.
And he is grateful to LCCC for setting him on that path.
“What I enjoyed most about LCCC was building strong ties with the community I would serve as a police officer,” he says. “The relationships built and the community feeling LCCC brings are priceless. And this college continues to surprise and amaze me with what they’re doing to better the future of our families in Lorain County.”