Friday, November 14, 2008

Athens-Clarke's first Hispanic detective, supervising officer retires

In just 8 years, this Hispanic police officer has turned things around with Hispanic immigrants. He got them to trust the police force, report crimes and helped them fit into the community. He also has hired more Hispanic officers. This is what every town needs. DP

Aguilar took steps to build trust

By Joe Johnson

One day in 2000, word was spreading that a big fight was brewing at a predominantly Hispanic apartment complex in Northern Clarke County.

When Athens-Clarke police Sgt. Nick Aguilar went to investigate, a child let him know that he'd turned a corner in his work.

"When I arrived, an 8-year-old boy came out and said, 'Here comes our police officer,' and there was no fight," Aguilar said. "It was at that moment I realized that I had gained the trust of the Hispanics in that community, and they respected me enough not to fight."

Aguilar hung up his uniform and gun belt for good Oct. 31, but his retirement from the police department isn't official until this Saturday.

He leaves behind a much different department than when he began - a time when the county government was overwhelmed with an unexpected influx of immigrants.

"Sergeant Aguilar did a good job befriending Hispanic people," said Sister Margarita Martin of Oasis Catolico Santa Rafaela, a Catholic ministry in Pinewood Estates North, a mostly Mexican trailer park.

"He went around the neighborhood and got to know people, really making them feel that the police are not their enemies, but are there to help them," Sister Margarita said.
New immigrants were arriving daily in 1998, but no one on the local police force was Hispanic.

Athens-Clarke police officials knew about Aguilar because of the reputation he had earned from undercover narcotics work with state and federal agencies, and in Walton and Oconee counties. When they asked him to join the local police force, he accepted.
"Chief (Jack) Lumpkin just needed my expertise to try to serve the Hispanic community," Aguilar said. "There was no relationship between that community and the police at that time, and I became the liaison and brought them together."

Many immigrants had a deep mistrust of police because they came from countries where officers were corrupt, and they worried that local authorities would deport them.

That meant crimes against Hispanics or crimes they witnessed went unreported, Aguilar said.
Be sure to read the rest of this story! This is only a small part of it.

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