September 29, 2006

Latino Officer of the Year, an example for youth

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

For Officer Cecilio Flores it was just another day patrolling the streets of Barrio Logan. He suddenly noticed smoke coming out of an apartment window.

Presuming the apartment was on fire, Flores began yelling and knocking on the apartment door in attempt to warn anyone inside.

Hero, Officer Cecilio Flores chatting with two San Diego High students.

When no one responded Flores took immediately action by entering the smoke filled apartment. 

Inside, he located a disoriented man and saw the silhouette of another person standing in the distance. Flores assisted the disoriented man to safety outside of the apartment. 

The man told Flores that his 18-year-old brother, with Downs syndrome, was also still inside. 

Flores re-entered the apartment and removed the younger brother from apartment kitchen, which was engulfed in flames.

Flores escorted the younger brother to safety and entered a third time to search for additional occupants. 

The older brother was treated and released at the scene. The younger brother suffered minor burns to his head and arms and was transported to a hospital for treatment.

Officer Flores and his partner were both treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Due to his courage at this incident and his general work in the community, Flores, who’s a campus police officer for the San Diego Unified School District Police Department, will be honored as co-recipient of the 2006 National Latino Police Officers Association (NLPOA) Police Officer of the Year Award.

NLPOA is a national organization that recognizes and values the benefits of Latino law enforcement personnel. 

“I’m humble,” said Flores, 36. “I didn’t think it was going to go that far. It’s a huge honor.”

Remembering the fire incident where he saved two human lives, Flores said it was within his instinct to help.

“Now that I think about it I put my life at risk. At that moment I didn’t think about it. It felt like the right thing to try to save the people inside the apartment,” he said.

Although Flores is a popular figure at San Diego High Educational Complex, he said not many students know about the award.

“I’m a humble person. They don’t know much about it.”

He said the award was going to be a good reference for future promotions, such as the one he got when he was promoted to become San Diego High’s campus police officer last year.

Flores started his career at San Diego Unified as a guidance counselor in 1995. After serving almost five years as a Community Service Officer, Officer Flores put himself through the police academy and was hired as a full time sworn police officer in January of 2000.

“He is very, very well-regarded among his peers and at his campus,” said Ursula Kroemer, communications supervisor for the San Diego Unified School District. “He’s a bit of a Pied Piper with the students.”

Flores said that every police officer has a unique aspect of law enforcement they focus on.

For him, he said he loves being able to help students.

“It’s important for me to protect our students. They are our future. I feel that if I don’t do something about it, if I don’t offer my guidance, they might end up in jail. That’s why I put my heart into my work.”

Although he loves his job and he’s clearly making a difference in the lives of many of San Diego High’s 3,000 students, Flores said looking after the six small schools that make up the campus as a challenge he gladly accepts.

“It’s not hard. It’s challenging. The stress level is very high. Everyday there’s something happening,” he said.

Flores cited the continuos presence of gangs on campus as a major concern.

“Protecting the schools is very unique. We’re also role models for students. I’ve put my heart [into] working with juveniles.”

Flores was the San Diego Police Officers’ Association Peace Officer of the Year for 2005 and was also honored by the National Burn Institute and the County of San Diego for this life saving effort. 

He will receive the award from the National Latino Police Officers Association at a ceremony in Las Vegas on Saturday, October 14.

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