MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Blount County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Lopez didn’t believe there was much of a Hispanic community in Blount County when he started working for the sheriff’s office. ‘last year. It wasn’t until he started patrolling the streets that he realized what he had heard from his fellow MPs was true. According to Lopez, Blount County’s Hispanic community is growing — and as the child of Mexican immigrants, that makes him feel like he’s doing something special.
“Sometimes I see a young Hispanic kid, and I can see it in his face – the same reaction I had when I was his age and saw another Hispanic officer,” he said. . “Like, there’s someone like me doing this job.”
September 15 to October 15 is officially National Hispanic Heritage Month. Codified by President Reagan in 1988, the month aims to celebrate the cultures and traditions of people of Hispanic descent across the United States. And while there aren’t many Hispanic law enforcement personnel in Blount County, Lopez isn’t the only one. Alcoa Police Sgt. Alexis Rodriguez, for example, is especially proud of the work done by his fellow Hispanic police officers to serve their communities in Blount County.
“In our culture, we’re taught to be selfless and to work hard, and that’s the real heart of law enforcement,” she said. “So this career choice only makes sense for us to reflect the community we serve and to bring diversity and a much-needed skill set to our departments.”
Rodriguez worked with APD for seven years, working his way up to his current position as a drill sergeant. In his eyes, one of his unique strengths comes from his heritage. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and she grew up speaking English and Spanish.
“Sometimes they call me because they know I’m going to be able to handle the call a little more efficiently,” she said. “And often, even if I’m not working, the agents call me and I can interpret for both sides.”
According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 4% of Blount County residents identify as Hispanic. It may not be much, but it’s enough that Rodriguez is often sent into situations where her skills will allow her to do more than the average officer in her department. She’s not alone either. Lopez also often finds himself responding to incidents where he has to speak in Spanish, as not all Hispanics in Blount County are able to speak English.
“There will always be a need for a Spanish-speaking officer,” he said, going on to say that heritage runs much deeper than language. Often he is able to defuse a situation just by being there. To be a good MP is to serve the whole community.
“I’ve been on calls where I can feel the tension when I get there because of that language barrier,” he said. “But when I start talking Spanish to them, I can see the change in their body language. It’s like they’re talking to a friend.
Cpl. Pete Rivas of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office. Rivas, who has worked for the Bureau since 2004, tries to impress on the recruits he trains that their role as law enforcement is to build trust in the community. This is not always easy, as the public’s perception of law enforcement can be affected by the past.
“There’s a misconception, especially among older law enforcement, that their job is just to enforce the law,” he said. “And we try to tell them that our job is to go out there and be part of the community.”
Working as law enforcement with the Hispanic community, he said, can have its own challenges. He has seen families with roots and recent history in countries where the police are untrustworthy, posing a problem for MPs trying to make connections. It’s a challenge Lopez has also faced when dealing with recent immigrants.
“In some places people don’t tend to turn to law enforcement for help,” he said. “When people move to the United States, they always have this fear. They are afraid of what law enforcement is going to do or what they are not going to do. »
Rodriguez also encountered instances of mistrust that she had to overcome. In her eyes, she and her fellow Hispanic officers and deputies have a unique ability to connect with the county’s Hispanic community. This ability, she said, lends itself to the responsibility to act.
“You are not only fighting what we are facing here at the national level, but you are also fighting what people have had to face in their countries of origin. When they come here, it’s extra pressure to build that relationship,” she said. “We want to let them know that they are still represented here in the United States and that we have this common culture.”
Overcoming that distrust, she says, is one of the reasons she is so proud of her fellow Hispanic officers. By serving as police and deputies, she sees them as overcoming a distrust of law enforcement, breaking down barriers in the process.
“I cannot express how proud I am of my fellow Hispanic officers in our region,” she said, “and what we have all accomplished in the hope of paving the way for other future Hispanic officers.”