NEW ORLEANS – Originally from New Mexico, William Torres, 40, moved to New Orleans more than 20 years ago and began pursuing his dream of having a career in law enforcement. The newly-minted detective is a 15-year veteran of the department and is frequently called upon to utilize his skills as a bi-lingual officer.
Why did you want to join NOPD?
“Growing up my best friend’s father was a New Mexico State Police officer and I always looked up to him. He represented the type of person I wanted to become. My parents also instilled in me a respect for law enforcement and for authority in general. When I moved here I was 18 or 19 years old and I wasn’t old enough to join NOPD so I went to work for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and worked in the jail. I stayed there until I was 25 and then I applied to NOPD.”
What’s the best thing about working in the Third District?
“The camaraderie, plus I think we have some of the best supervisory personnel in the NOPD. Our supervisors are really able to motivate us and boost morale. You’re able to build up a lot of trust and confidence when you know your supervisors are competent.”
Is there a big difference in being a patrol officer and being a detective?
“When you’re a patrol officer on a scene, you take the basic information and you’re pretty much done. As a detective you’re trying to solve the case – it won’t go away. The follow-up takes place until you solve the case or there’s nowhere else to go with it. Being a detective is more challenging. You stay with the case and you have more time to reach out to witnesses and the victims. You are the point of contact for the victims and you have time to build more of a rapport with them. Also when you’re in plain clothes (as a detective) I think it makes people more comfortable. When they see the uniform they may be more reluctant to speak to you.”
New Orleans seems to have a unique relationship with police officers. How do you explain that?
“I think it has a lot to do with presence. They see us out in the community a lot. When we’re patrolling in vehicles or walking in the neighborhood, people say hello or wave at us. In the high crime neighborhoods where they see us the most, I think they are just used to our presence. In the neighborhoods that don’t see a lot of crime, they’re just happy to see us.
I also think residents know we are doing everything we can and most of them know we have a high volume of work. When they see us actively investigating crimes, they say things like ‘I know you’ve got a lot on your shoulders’ and they tell us they understand and appreciate it.
During big events like Mardi Gras, tourists will see people interacting with us and then they get in a conversation with us and say they didn’t know police officers were so down to earth and approachable.”
How does being bi-lingual help you interact with the public?
“New Orleans has a rather large Hispanic population – larger than people realize I think. Before Hurricane Katrina there was a small Honduran community in Mid-City but now all neighborhoods seem to have good sized Hispanic populations. So when I encounter someone who speaks Spanish and they find out they’re able to converse with me in Spanish, they just light up. You can see the relief in their face. I think it helps them feel equal to me instead of being intimidated by me as a police officer. It’s like they are talking to a family member.”