SANTAQUIN — No matter how many times officer Manny Escoto patrols through Santaquin, it seems like there is something new every time.
“Yeah, this is a whole new subdivision up here,” said Escoto while driving his patrol car on the west side of Santaquin. “A year ago there was nothing here. Houses are built everywhere. They’re barely getting them up and people are already living in it.”
Like many places along the Wasatch Front, Santaquin is growing fast.
The small city on the southern end of Utah County has seen an explosion in population growth in the past five years.
“Still a beautiful place to live, though,” Escoto said with a smile.
It’s because of so many new people moving in that Escoto found there was a growing need to help some of them.
“I just wanted to give back and help the community,” he said.
When he’s not outside making the streets safer, Escoto is often inside making the streets safer.
He teaches a driving class at Santaquin City Hall for those who want to learn the laws and rules of the road.
“They’re learning how to make a left turn, how to not get into the wrong way in the street, so things like that,” said Escoto. “… I want to make it real clear to them that they need to learn those things.”
He has to make it clear because the people he’s teaching usually aren’t from here. They’re from Mexico and found work in the many farms and orchards in and around Santaquin.
“I come from there, so I know what it feels like,” Escoto said. “I can put myself in their shoes.”
Escoto was born in Mexico and moved to America when he was 14 years old. He understands how intimidating it can be to live in a foreign country and not understand the native language.
“I had to learn the English language as best as I could,” he said.
He remembers how easy it could’ve been to get involved in gangs and drugs. However, he didn’t want that life.
So when he moved to Utah, Escoto decided to become a police officer to fight the problem.
“I want to be known for something else and just part of the ... a part of the solution. Not the problem,” he said. “I love it. It’s the only job to get up in the morning and want to keep doing it.”
Escoto also knows part of being a good officer is gaining trust from those who might normally be scared of him.
I know what it feels like. I can put myself in their shoes.
–Manny Escoto, Santaquin police office
That’s another reason why he teaches the class.
“If they know they can count on somebody at least to come and talk to, hey, that’s what I’m here for,“ Escoto said. “I’d rather have a person with a driver’s license than have somebody who doesn’t have a license. It will help them to trust us a little more to the police departments as well.”
Escoto just wants to give them a chance, and he hopes others do, as well.
“See them as people,” he said. “Maybe different people, but still, nevertheless, they’re like a box of Legos. We’ll build it with different shapes, different forms, different colors, but we build a lot of great things together.”