Officer wins top honor

Service: Gabriel Armas figured being a Howard police officer would never be boring. He was right.

April 08, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

As a Howard County police officer, Pfc. Gabriel Arias has been asked to chase emus, wear wigs, use dog biscuits to help solve crimes and allow two 14-year-old girls to mug him. He describes it as his way of protecting county citizens.

"I thought this is a job where I would never be bored," Arias said. "I was always willing to [do those things] because I wanted the experience. I still do."

His work will be recognized tonight when Police Chief Wayne Livesay names Arias the 1998 Police Officer of the Year at the department's annual awards ceremony at the George Howard Building.

He was selected by an eight-member department committee.

Arias, 39, who has been on the force since April 1993, patrols Harper's Choice.

He keeps an updated photo file of known offenders in the area, speaks before community groups and builds a strong rapport with community leaders, wrote Arias' supervisor, Sgt. Gerald T. Frischkorn, in a letter recommending him for the award.

"He's highly motivated about solving community problems," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman, who supervised Arias for nearly two years. "It's always impressive."

Arias says crimes that happen on his beat feel as if they happened in his home.

"Things that happen on your beat you kind of take personally," he explained.

One way he solves crimes is by regularly volunteering to pose as a "victim" of a crime.

During one incident, he allowed a teen girl to rob him. In another, he wore a wig so he wouldn't be recognized.

But the native of Costa Rica says his "claim to fame" in the department is speaking Spanish, regularly translating on- and off-duty for the county's growing Spanish-speaking population.

"It is an extremely valuable asset to have an officer who speaks Spanish," Carroll said, because it helps officers better understand a crime or explain an individual's rights.

Arias said speaking Spanish offers him opportunities to work on investigations he otherwise wouldn't and is a way to help the Hispanic population.

"They don't tend to report as much, and a lot of local criminals know that and will target them," he said. "I can show them how the police work."

Tonight's accolade is just one of many Arias has received for his work during the past year: The county Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Inc. both named him Officer of the Year.

"He has an outstanding record of police service in every phase of policing," said Richard C. Hall, executive secretary of the officers group.

Arias, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he joined the department because he wanted to serve the public.

He hopes to become a detective in the violent crimes unit. He says every day is an adventure, but he reminds himself it can change at any second.

"I want to live till the end of my shift."

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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