It was a typical day for Howard County Pfc. Gabriel Arias. He was patrolling western Columbia, stopping by the Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network's office and, at District Court, accepting congratulations from yet another acquaintance.
"So what's the award this week?" the man asked Arias on a recent morning. The officer just shook his head in embarrassment.
In Ocean City yesterday, Arias was honored as the state's police officer of the year by the Maryland Chiefs of Police.
Nine months earlier, the county named him the county police officer of the year. In February, he was one of five winners of awards from the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Association.
The Maryland Chiefs of Police chose Arias, 39, because "he represented all the ideals of law enforcement," said Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay.
The accolades stem largely from his work in the Harper's Choice area, where he helped develop a community-based crime prevention program; the use of his Spanish language skills; and the creative tactics he uses to solve problems.
But Arias insists, "I really haven't done anything special." For him, taking a vested interest in his patrol area, reaching out to the community and using his bilingual skills are all part of the job.
Residents credit Arias with helping Harper's Choice win designation by the Police Department as a HotSpot site. The designation will bring the village extra resources to battle crime.
"He endorsed it. He recommended it," said Lee Potter, a Harper's Choice Village Board member. "He was telling us he hoped we get it."
In a 1998 letter recommending Arias for the county police officer of the year award, his then-supervisor, Sgt. Gerald T. Frischkorn, said that in Harper's Choice Arias "maintains his involvement and facilitates solutions through discussions within the community, the local residents and merchants and area residents."
Arias is one of six Spanish-speaking officers on the force. The Costa Rican native is regularly called while on- and off-duty to translate for victims and suspects. He has served as a translator at Sexual Trauma Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center. Whenever he can, he goes to the offices of Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network (FIRN).
There, he translates for immigrants, speaks to them and builds rapport and sources in the immigrant community. FIRN is a referral service for county immigrants and refugees.
"We help each other out," said Kinza Schuyler, FIRN executive director. "He has initiated ways to make the police seem more immigrant friendly. It's a group that may have been persecuted by police" in their native countries.
This week, Arias decided to lend a helping hand by donating his old van to FIRN. The vehicle will be refurbished and donated to an immigrant who needs transportation.
Arias did not always intend to be a police officer. He worked a number of jobs before deciding to join the department in April 1993. He has no regrets, but would rather not have the limelight on him much longer.
"I'm just doing the job," he says.
Pub Date: 9/14/99