What’s Up South Texas!: Officer honors fallen partner through Police Athletic League for children

Julio Cavazos hopes to grow the PAL program so more children can have productive things to do outside of school

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer nearly killed in the line of duty dedicates his life to bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community in honor of his fallen partner.

Julio Cavazos, 39, has been working with the department since he was 26-years-old.

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, he became heavily active with the department’s PAL program, or Police Athletic League, which was established in 1990 to help keep children out of trouble and active in sports.

“I needed and these kids needed, and everybody needed an outlet,” Cavazos said. “We were tired of being cooped up. Anything I can do to keep these kids engaged in outside school activities besides drugs and violence. Keep them off the streets and keep them accountable.”

Cavazos has been working with kids in baseball, boxing, football, soccer, CrossFit, and even e-sports.

“We even paid out of our pockets to help sponsor some kids because we know how hard it can be with trying to afford doing things,” Cavazos said. “I want them to just be able to come out and have fun and not have to worry about not having the equipment like hand wraps or gloves.”

His passion to help underserved children came from his upbringing.

“I am from this neighborhood,” he said referring to the West Side where he trains children to box at Cardona’s Boxing. “I went to Lanier High School. We are inner-city officers working with inner-city kids. We can see these kids eye to eye.”

His biggest hope is to build a trusting relationship with children.

Something neither he nor his family had growing up.

“Growing up in this neighborhood, I had a lot of distrust for the police,” Cavazos said. “My parents had a lot of distrust for the police.”

Cavazos said while he was working in retail, his friends convinced him to try working with the police department and it worked.

“I will never forget when I decided to join,” he said. “My mom was ironing my cadet uniform. My dad came home, and he saw the cadet uniform and he said, ‘WHAT IS THIS?’ My mom said, ‘Your son wants to be a police officer.’ My dad said, ‘AHHH!’ and walked away. That was just how it was. We grew up that way.”

Once Cavazos started working, he realized police were more than just authority in uniform.

“I cut my hair, I took out all of my earrings, and I covered up my tattoos,” he said. “They treated me as an equal. They were no longer a police officer. They were specific names like Michael, and John, and so forth. They invited me to their homes and we just built such a strong bond.”

He said that is when his parents began to see him grow into a man through the department. Then he met his partner, Miguel Moreno.

“I used to be an alcoholic,” Cavazos said. “I drank quite a bit. I don’t know why, but I think it is just with all of the stuff we see at work and you take it home sometimes. Miguel was a physical machine! He rode his bike every day. He worked out every day. He used to nag me,” he said as he became emotional. “He had these mannerisms that I miss. But he would poke at me to better myself.”

Before Cavazos knew it, he joined a CrossFit gym and was competing with Moreno for the fastest mile.

“He was a gift,” he said through tears. “We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same school. When I was in construction, he went to the University of Texas in Austin. He was brilliant. He was younger than me, but he was my mentor. I can’t explain to people how much I miss him.”

Sadly, July 29, 2017, Moreno was killed after he and Cavazos were shot while conducting arrests for vehicle burglaries. His end of watch is dated July 30, 2017, when he succumbed to his injuries at age 32.

A devastating experience that traumatizes Cavazos to this day.

“I remember I was in the hospital bed and I looked out the window and I could see downtown, and I promised that I would keep him alive someway and have people learn from it,” Cavazos said. “I don’t want people to forget him. I think through teaching people that we are your police officers, but we are where you come from. He was the better man. Why I am still here? I don’t know but I don’t want people to forget him.”

Cavazos is now honoring his partner by working to build that trust in the community.

“I dreamt of Miguel twice and he said that I had a mission and before I could go, I had to finish it,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe it is this. Maybe he wants people to see us as a shallow west sider. That is one thing I learned from my CrossFit days of training is that we are all equal. My dad learned a lot through my incident. My family learned a lot through my incident.”

He said he is fortunate to be helping kids in a neighborhood he grew up in.

“I want to expand this service to more kids who may be in worse situations,” Cavazos said. “Whether they are on the north, south or any side of the city. I want to tell them to not see me as a police officer but to see me as their friend. There have been great barriers of mistrust between the police and the community for many, many years. I want to tear that down. If we work together, we can tear that down and build a bridge over the rubble and stand on equal footing and see each other face to face.”

Cavazos said that is what he believes Moreno would want him to do.

“We learned that we are not just guns and badges, but we are people from the neighborhood,” Cavazos said. “We are not cops and robbers. We are friends, we are comrades, classmates, brothers. I am doing this through passion. I want truly for us to see each other on equal footing. I want our community to grow and to help each other out. If I could get that little piece, I think I would have done what I am supposed to do.”

Cavazos and the rest of the department are asking for the community’s help to make the PAL program, stronger.

If you would like to make a donation, whether it be monetary or with equipment, you can coordinate with Cavazos at the PAL office located at 555 Academic Court.

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.