by Kristin D’Agostino –
Asheville Police Department detective Sonia Escobedo, 48, learned the importance of family support early in life.
The daughter of migrant farm workers, her Mexican parents spent six months of the year in California and six months in Mexico in El Salitre Zacatecas, a rural area where Escobedo’s grandparents owned a farm. As a child, Sonia spent three years, from third to sixth grade, living with her grandparents and seeing them plant vegetables, milk cows, and make cheese that they sold at the market in the city.
“I loved it,” Escobedo said. “It was carefree there. You had to help out with chores and animals, but school was unstructured. In summertime, I’d help Grandpa with the plow and horse, drop a seed of corn, a seed of squash.”
When she was in junior high, her parents decided to move the family to Los Angeles, where Escobedo grew up near Chinatown in a neighborhood affected by gang violence. When she was 13, her uncle, who lived nearby, was murdered—and the police never solved the crime. This event deeply affected her family and ultimately drove Escobedo toward joining the police force.
“Law enforcement never took the time to dedicate to solve his investigation,” she said. “It has crossed my mind since that since (immigrants) don’t have the ability to communicate, they fall short. They don’t get the same amount of attention.”
As a child and teenager, Escobedo was a caretaker drawn to helping those in need. Seeing this, her father and grandmother urged her to study law enforcement. She began working nights at the Asheville Police Department when she was 21 and completed Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) at A-B Tech.
Since 2013, she’s worked as a detective focused on drug and gun investigations. She’s also a team leader in crisis negotiation, where she’s called on to administer to people experiencing mental health crises. Most recently, she helped a man who was on the verge of suicide and standing on a ledge with a knife in his hand.
“He had substance abuse problems and felt he wasn’t contributing to his family,” she said. “I was able to help give him options other than taking his life. He was able to go into the hospital … and get on medication to help him get off substances.”
Escobedo said the key to helping people in crisis has been drawing on her own life experience. “I may not be going through the exact same thing, but I have experienced loss in life that I can draw on and share with folks,” she said. “My family was very poor, and we had very little in life.”
A typical day for Escobedo includes taking a tally of the prior week’s gun-related incidents, and then, if there is clear evidence of a crime, she will go out to arrest offenders, striving to do so in a safe manner. Her work week is four 10-hour days, often including nights and weekends of overtime that can add up to 115 hours if there is an incident that requires investigation.
Asked how she stays healthy emotionally amid turmoil, Escobedo praised her ever-strong family base. Her mother, 21-year-old son, and brothers and sisters and their families all live nearby.
“At the end of the day, we find things to do to keep each other in check,” she said. “We got each other whatever we’re going through.”
Escobedo draws on this base when talking to someone in crisis who lacks family of their own. “I try to be that [family] for them,” she said.
In addition to her full-time police work, Escobedo teaches at A-B Tech as an adjunct in Human Trafficking and Controlled Substances. She enjoys interacting with future generations of officers and sharing her perspective on the field, which she said has greatly improved since she entered two decades ago. These days, officers are getting more support for on-the-job trauma, including support from mental health clinicians and days off for mental health.
Despite challenges, Escobedo is glad she stuck with the profession because she believes strongly in the work she’s doing. By helping others, especially marginalized individuals, she feels she’s helping prevent tragedies like her uncle’s death.
“We need people that are willing to go the extra mile and can walk away [from a crime] and say I gave it everything I could. I couldn’t solve it, but I gave it everything,” she said. “Our community of Latinos and Spanish speakers might not be seen as part of the community because we’re immigrants. I want to let them know there are others here to help them.”
Kristin D’Agostino is the Communications Coordinator for A-B Tech Community College.