ST. PAULS — When Officer Javier Lopez came to America, he spoke no English. But now, he’s helping the St. Pauls Police Department communicate with the town’s growing Spanish-speaking population.
The bilingual Puebla, Mexico, native joined the Police Department two weeks ago and has already utilized his Spanish speaking skills five or six times.
“A lot of people are scared to come up here because they know that no one speaks Spanish or can understand what they’re saying,” he said. “I think it brings the community together as far as having someone who can understand them.”
Lopez was born in Puebla, Mexico, and moved to Robeson County when he was 9 years old. He said that he came to America knowing absolutely no English, but was able to learn how to speak it through English as a Second Language courses in school.
Lopez went to Parkton schools for fifth grade, but went to St. Pauls schools from sixth to 12th grades. He graduated from St. Pauls High School in 2003 and worked construction for 11 years after that.
Lopez had contemplated joining the force for a number of reasons, but one in particular.
“This is the best way that I could give back to my community,” Lopez said. “I’ve always thought about it but this was the right time.”
He said that, in his two weeks on the force, his most proud moment was being able to break the language barrier.
Lopez said that he understands the frustrations of those who cannot communicate with people who don’t understand Spanish. He said that he’s always been his dad’s translator because his dad never had the opportunity to learn English.
Lopez loves his job as an officer and looks forward to moving through the ranks.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Lopez said. “Since I just started, every traffic stop gets my heart pumping.”
Police Chief Tommy Hagens said Lopez wasn’t specifically hired as a translator, the department uses him as a resource when necessary. He added that an Hispanic woman was recently hired in the Town Office to help communicate with the Spanish-speaking residents.
Gabrielle can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.