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Enrique Perez, CPD's outreach pro, lauded
Enrique Perez, who served for years offered a friendly connection between minority groups and the Ceres Police Department, was honored by city officials at the outset of the Aug. 22 Ceres City Council meeting.

Now retired, Perez served as the community liaison from 2005 to 2009 when budget cuts required the position to be axed.

"He put his heart and soul into the very best he could to make this community better," said deWerk in honoring Perez.

He previously served the department as a volunteer. Perez also served seven years as a Ceres juvenile diversion officer under then Sgt. Hollie Hall, often attempting to correct want-to-be gang members make restitution for graffiti and other crimes through community service.

Perez's work included helping largely Spanish-speaking populations in Ceres understand the function and methods of the Police Department. He is credited by Police Chief Art DeWerk for reaching out to disenfranchised individuals in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Sgt. Howard Stevenson. Tensions were high between the department and segments of the Latino community which heralded assailant Andres Raya as a martyr of their community and felt police were unduly harrassing Latinos in their crackdown of gang activity. Raya - he grew up in the farm labor camp and dabbled in gang activity - was an AWOL Marine at the time of the shooting. Raya himself was gunned down after charging officers hours after killing Stevenson on Jan. 9, 2005. DeWerk said Perez helped to "stabilize....instead of have a divided community."

"There was a divide," acknowledged Perez. "People jumped to conclusions based on what this person said or they got it second hand. There were rumors going around that the Police Department was only targeting Latinos, which was not the case. I explained that they were following up leads about associates of Raya, which was good police work, and it ruffled feathers. We gathered up staff and held town hall meetings and squashed all the rumors and did some serious, serious community outreach."

Most found Perez's honest and friendly demeanor as effective in fostering a better understanding of issues involving police. However, some accused him "of siding with the establishment or city government because I worked for them."

Perez was frequently assigned to tackle reoccurring problems in areas of Ceres. For example, residents of the Persephone Park area expressed concern over a speed problem. With Sgt. James Yandall, Perez met with residents and brainstormed ideas. An offhand remark about a family with a deaf child prompted a neighborhood drive to helped get signs posted noting DEAF CHILDREN PRESENT.

"That basically took care of the speed problem because people were more aware of something different there," recalls Perez.

Much of his job - he didn't wear a badge nor a uniform to make himself more approachable - involved explaining police actions to upset residents.

"We had a lot of successes, and by success I mean getting folks to understand. Granted they didn't always like it but at least they understood why things were being done."

Perez said some people hold misconceptions which need to be explained away.

"Officers don't always have time to explain," he said. "A lot of Latino community still believe that police officers have a quota to fill, which is not the case. I explained that officers did not wake up and plan to catch you. Your paths crossed because you were caught doing something wrong. A lot of won't admit when they're wrong."

Also presenting Perez with a certificate of appreciation last week was La Cascada owner Jose Saldivar. The two became friends and assisted each other in projects to reach out to youth, especially Saldivar's church based program to discourage teens from joining gangs. Their friendship started in 2006 when Perez asked Saldivar for help in reaching out to the family of slain Marine Lance Cpl. Juana Navarro of Ceres. Saldivar responded by supplying a free dinner to the family.

Perez called Ceres Police Department "one of the best police departments" and said Chief Art deWerk is "a leader who listens."

Most recently Perez worked for the Fort Bragg Police Department under health issues forced him into retirement. The Ceres resident considers it joy to play grandfather.