New Officers PROTECT AND SERVE

Story by Jeannie Stone

George Sosa and Roberto Aponte are the new officers on the Russellville police force. Sosa, a native of Los Angeles, and Aponte, a native of Puerto Rico, offer a fresh perspective to the area. Both officers are native Spanish speakers, and a welcomed addition with the local growing Hispanic population. 

Sosa, who is Salvadoran, long admired his brother who served as a police officer for the border patrol in San Diego, Calif. His parents, seeking a quieter way of life in which to raise their family, decided to move to Danville bringing along Sosa and his three brothers.

“It was a big shock,” Sosa said noting the lack of activities in Danville 13 years ago when he arrived. “It had nothing compared to now, and I was depressed.” After six months in the close community, he moved to Russellville where he enjoys the city atmosphere.

Prior to his employment with the Russellville Police Department, Sosa worked first as an EMT for the Pope County ambulance service. He later commuted to Little Rock where he worked as an emergency medical technician and dispatcher.

“I never moved out of Russellville,” he said. “I like it here. It’s not so large that it’s out of control like LA,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to live in the country, but Russellville is nice. I like the diversity of the town.”

Sosa likes paintball and cycling. “I spend a lot of time with my family,” he said.

Roberto Aponte is a native of Salinas, Puerto Rico. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at 18 and enrolled in the police academy. Personal conflicts prevented him from completing his studies at that time.

As a child, he was encouraged to pursue a law enforcement career when he listened to stories of his father’s escapades as a police officer.

“My mother used to tell me about his work and how no two days were alike,” he said. Aponte’s mother and father were also career officers.

Aponte met and married his wife Wendy in Ohio, and they followed her parents, moving to Arkansas.

“They wanted to get away from the cold winters,” he said, although he prefers the cold.

He carried his interest in law enforcement to Arkansas but found a higher paying job working in loss prevention at Lowe’s Home Improvement store. It wasn’t long before the familiar urge re- surfaced, and Aponte decided to continue with his primary love of law enforcement.

Aponte is father to daughter Ivy, 6, and son Roberto, 5.

Aponte loves the outdoors and has learned to appreciate the more temperate climate of Arkansas which allows him more time to ride horses and hike in the mountains.

Both officers graduated from the Basic Police Training Academy in East Camden in December and have been field training at the Russellville department. Field Training Officer Hubbard predicts the new officers “will be a big asset to the department.”

Lt. Mike Stevens has known Aponte for a long time and agrees that “when there is a communications breakdown in a situation, it will be advantageous to have bilingual partners who can come to the rescue.”

Aponte knows only too well how alienated it feels to be in a new country without knowing the language. “When I came to the United States I didn’t know English,” he said. “I really had to work at it.”

The Russellville Police Department has a transitional program for new officers, so they can represent the department with confidence, said Josh McMillian, Public Information Officer.

“For us, it’s also a liability issue. We need our officers on the street to know what they’re doing, and through the field training program that goal is achieved very well.

“Russellville has the most comprehensive field training in this area,” McMillian said. “Each phase has its own curriculum. The officers have successfully completed Phase One, which includes working accidents, traffic stops, taking calls from the dispatcher, and learning the city streets and the equipment in the vehicle.”

Phase Two includes higher-risk calls such as burglaries and domestic abuse situations. The final stage provides instruction on detecting DWIs.

At the conclusion of Phase Three the sponsoring Field Training Officer, dressed in plain clothes, accompanies the new officer – not to help, but to simply observe. “That is the final test,” McMillian said, “and we’ve had officers who didn’t pass.”

“These two officers are mature. They’re handling situations in a professional manner, and all indications point to them becoming fully-certified law enforcement officers,” McMillian said.

Now that Sosa and Aponte are integrated in the Russellville community, what do they miss most from their childhood homeland?

“I miss the rest of my family,” Sosa said.

Aponte answers, “I don’t miss a lot from Ohio, although I liked the snow. There is a convenience factor of having everything close. Now, I miss a lot from Puerto Rico. Besides my family, I miss the food and the spices, and I miss the ocean.

He is particularly fond of fresh seafood which is not readily available in the river valley nor in Ohio. “I like barracuda, shark, you name it. If it’s fresh I’ll eat it.”

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