Since 1997, the 34-year-old Sacramento native has run Brawley's PAL as its executive director and has seen it go from a fledgling organization initially partnered with the city's Boys and Girls Club to a program that sees more than 1,000 kids participate in activities yearly.
While he has flourished as PAL director and as a Brawley Police Department sergeant, early in his life things didn't seem bright for Eaton. Growing up outside of Sacramento, Eaton had his share of run-ins with the law and got into what he calls "minor trouble."
"Back then I could see that I was headed some major problems because I just wasn't acting right," said Eaton. "But what kept me out of trouble was sports, playing football and baseball. I mean, I really didn't like school, but when I went I got decent grades … good enough to play sports, because that's what I liked doing."
While in high school, the father of his friend Randy Williams, realized Eaton might be headed down the wrong path and took him under his wing.
Bob Williams, a Sacramento County deputy sheriff, started taking Eaton with him for ride-alongs and introduced him to some of his colleagues. During his time with Williams Eaton started thinking about going into law enforcement.
"That was something that I started to get into, I really enjoyed going on those ride-alongs and meeting all those guys at the department," Eaton said. "Growing up, I had always wanted to be a school teacher so I could teach and coach baseball and football. I mean, both my parents were teachers, so I just figured that I'd do the same. But after spending time with Bob, I realized at that point that law enforcement might be an option."
In 1986 he and Randy Williams moved to the San Diego area, and Eaton enrolled at Grossmont College in El Cajon. At Grossmont he saw recruiting signs for the local police academy, which he applied to, and despite his sketchy personal record, was accepted. He dropped all the classes at Grossmont and went into the academy full-time.
From there it was off to the Southwestern Police Academy in Chula Vista.
At 20 years old he completed the academy and started applying to police departments. Working against him, though, were the mistakes he made as a juvenile. He applied to 28 departments before getting accepted as a level one reserve with the Chula Vista Police Department.
"Everywhere I was applying, they were doing background checks and saw what I had done. So I really needed to prove to all those agencies that I had the maturity to be there. What I had done made it very difficult to get hired," said Eaton. "Then I was brought on as a reserve with Chula Vista. I had a pretty successful career as a reserve for two years and was trying to get on full-time with them, but they weren't hiring.
"So then I applied to the Brawley Police Department and I got accepted. I had never heard of Brawley, but I just wanted a job. I never planned on staying. Like anyone else, I just planned on doing my two years and getting out and going back home," he said.
That two years he planned on putting in has since become 10 and what was at the time just a pit stop on his way back to Sacramento has now become home.
It is in Brawley with PAL that Eaton has created the annual Battle of the Badges — which pits local law enforcement employees in boxing's squared circle — the annual Glenn Cadrez Celebrity Golf Tournament, which brings professional athletes to the Imperial Valley to compete and help raise money for PAL. Eaton also formed the Imperial Valley Raiders Booster Club here.
Eaton said he still gets remarks from his fellow police officers questioning the legitimacy of his job.
"It is tremendously difficult to convince them how hard this job actually is. All those other guys think this is the easiest job in the world, but they don't realize how much work actually goes into it. They just think it's like a vacation job," he said.
But despite his colleagues even occasionally "running smack" about his job, that doesn't keep Eaton from doing it.
"I love my job. It does take a lot of time away from my family and my home, but I do enjoy it. I think this is probably one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had in my law enforcement career," he said. "One of the best things about this is actually seeing the kids that have come through the PAL program, like two or three years down the road and seeing them become something. You like to think you had a part in mentoring them."