Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Capt. Hector Velez, a 15-year veteran of the Prince George’s County Police Department, was assigned to the District 1 substation, which includes Hyattsville, Langley Park and surrounding areas, for two years before he was transferred to Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton’s office in April to serve as the chief’s executive officer.

His move was unexpected and a shock to the community that depended on him.

It wasn’t long before his absence was felt — residents not only missed the popular captain but also lobbied the chief about their concerns, and their concerted efforts paid off.

“I understand that several people went to the chief and asked for [Capt. Velez] to come back,” said Martha Newman, president of the Riverdale Heights/Riverdale Hills/Crestwood Community Association.

Recognizing the amount of respect Capt. Velez had garnered and the extent of the impact he had had on residents in the community, the chief decided to send him back to District 1. After being gone four months, Capt. Velez returned as assistant commander of the substation.

“Quality of life for citizens in the community is important to him, and he wants people to feel safe. He truly and honestly cares about our well-being. He is totally dedicated to the community,” Ms. Newman said.

Capt. Velez, 44, who joined the county police force in 1994, focused proactively on quality-of-life issues, including overcrowding, drinking and urinating in public, gangs and crime. He emphasized the value of having police and the community work together to solve problems and has led Citizens Advisory Committee meetings in his district.

“He made everyone feel important,” Ms. Newman said. “He encouraged you to be open and honest. We felt secure with him. He wanted to hear everything because he truly wanted to be part of the solution. He never made you feel like you were imposing. Hector thinks outside the box.”

LaVerne Williams, president of the Lewisdale Citizens Association, concurs with Ms. Newman. “He understands the problem. He will look into it and try to get it solved. I know that he is a big supporter of community policing. He cares about people. Hector is a people person,” she said.

Capt. Velez also is well liked by officers in the county.

“He is my hero,” one young officer said.

“The officers are crazy about him,” Ms. Williams said. “Everyone likes Hector. I think it is his disposition and personality and the way he works with people. He may disagree with you, but there’s a way to do that.”

Maj. Daniel Dusseau, who commands the District 1 station, said, “Capt. Velez has a calm yet competent demeanor that draws people. There is something about Capt. Velez that enables people to trust him. In law enforcement, information is everything. Crimes are solved, communities made safer, and fear is abated when information is shared. Capt. Velez opens the doors of trust. He is a dedicated commander. He is able to bring different perspectives to me and offer innovative solutions.”

Will Campos, Prince George’s County Council member, said: “I was very excited to see him come back. He had built a great relationship with the community. There’s a line of communication. It speaks volumes to what District 1 is doing.”

For Capt. Velez, the reception he has received from police officers as well as the community was heartwarming. After his departure, he received numerous e-mails saying they missed him and asking when he was coming back.

Capt. Velez explained that his interest in becoming a law enforcement officer began when the Brooklyn, N.Y., native was enrolled in the Police Explorer program at the age of 13. He joined the Army in 1983, becoming a sergeant and serving in Germany and Fort Meade, Md., before his discharge. He worked for the Howard County Police Department for five years before joining the Prince George’s force.

“My concerns are the community and the welfare of the officers,” Capt. Velez said. “What affects people is what is going on in the community [where] they live. People want to be heard. It’s important they know they are interacting with another person. What matters to them matters to you. When people know that you identify with them and listen, it builds a connection.”

The captain says his rewards include being able to address the community’s concerns. He admits some are never reconciled and some need constant attention.

Even when he is home, Capt. Velez is working and receives continual phone calls and e-mails. It is not uncommon for him to work 70 to 80 hours per week.

“I make myself accessible. A lot of people have my cell-phone number. This job is a 24-hour thing,” Capt. Velez said.

Residents are rejoicing over his return to their district, and Capt. Velez says he is happy to be back.

“Although the four months that I spent away from District 1 were rewarding, it made me realize the connections I had with the District 1 community. Coming back was a great feeling to re-connect - seeing their smiling faces and knowing we’ll be working together again,” he said.

• Karen L. Bune is a freelance writer.

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