East Hampton Village Police Officer Mario Julio Galeano has been named the department's 2012 Officer of the Year and will be honored at the annual Kiwanis Club dinner on Jan. 25.
Like his counterpart, Detective Tina Giles, at the town police department, Galeano was selected, in part, because of his tenacity that led to bringing forth a rape case.
In January of 2012, Galeano was turning around at the rest stop in Wainscott, at the western edge of the department's jurisdiction, when he noticed some movement in a parked vehicle.
The town police were brought in on the case since it was their jurisdiction, and the . He is currently serving a four year sentence in the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility.
"Somebody else might have kept on driving right by," Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen said of Galeano's quick thinking during the initial investigation. It's the kind of work that Larsen has come to expect from the officer. "He's done a great job his entire career," he said.
Galeano said he simply always stands guard, even when working the quieter night shifts in the middle of winter. He has a tendency, he said, to be a little "annoying," carefully checking a car window with a flashlight, in this case. "You never know what you are going to find. We stopped something from keeping on happening," he said.
Galeano, 30, joined the department eight years ago, fresh out the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He was the first, and remains the only, Latino officer in the department.
A Springs resident, he started working for the village as a traffic control officer in 2000.
When he was 12 years old he emigrated from a small town in Colombia to the East End. He attended the Montauk Public School and then graduated from East Hampton High School. He still recalls going on a ride-along with a town police officer when he was in middle school.
The experience only further cemented his dream of becoming a police officer, something he said he wanted to do as long as he can remember. "It's a good job and it's a great way to help the community," he said. "The community is changing a lot," he said, adding that he hopes he can act as "a role model to somebody," even if it's just one small child.
While he said there are a small number of Latinos who live in East Hampton Village itself, the overall population in the Town of East Hampton has grown significantly in recent years. Having him on the force, he said, has been helpful in "closing the gap between the department and Latino community."
When he's out on patrol in the village, he said he tries to reach out to the younger generation — both Latino and not — just to let them know police officers are there to help. It's been one of the biggest challenges for police departments, to earn the trust of the Latino community, some of whom come from countries where police can't be relied on, he said.
"It makes a big difference, at least I hope it does," he said. "It's an honor itself to be a police officer and it's an honor to be named Police Officer of the Year. I want to show people, they can do it too."
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