It was a moment that Clinton Police Officer Adrian Santiago, 26, said made him feel “naturally heartbroken”: A 10-year-old student excitedly proclaiming in front of a classroom of kids and adults at a meeting of the East Shore Region Adult and Continuing Education (ERACE) program on Feb. 23 at Joel Elementary School that the next day was his birthday, and later noting he wasn’t expecting any presents because his family couldn’t afford any.
“We had the opportunity to help and we were more than willing,” Adrian says.
Adrian asked the boy’s mother to write down their address on one of his business cards. Later that night, Adrian and Clinton Police Sergeant Jeremiah Dunn came to the child’s home with a bicycle, a skateboard, a toy badge, and a DARE bracelet so that the boy could have presents on his birthday after all. The family was “beyond thrilled,” Adrian says.
The next night Adrian went to Stop & Shop and had a cake made for the boy, which he and other officers on shift brought over that night to ensure there would be cake on the birthday—the officers even sang “Happy Birthday.”
“The family was very, very happy. To the point, they’ve come to the Police Department several times to express their thank yous,” Adrian says.
Adrian grew up in Clinton, where even from a young age he knew he wanted to be a police officer.
“We have police officers in our family in Puerto Rico, so we kind of grew up with police officers,” Adrian says.
That kind of upbringing led Adrian to “want to make a difference,” he says. After high school Adrian went to Central Connecticut State University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
When he was 18, Adrian joined Clinton’s Explorer Program which gives young people aspiring to be a police officer a chance to assist the department with tasks like parking enforcement or event safety. Adrian says the program offers participants a chance to “see a different side of policing that the general public doesn’t usually get the chance to see.”
After helping with translations at DUI checkpoints in Clinton as a volunteer, Adrian said the department put him on the payroll as a translator because he is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.
Adrian was so helpful in this position that when he turned 21, he says with a laugh, the department came to him and said, “You’re applying to be a police officer.”
Adrian is the only officer on the force who speaks Spanish, and that keeps him very busy. Besides Clinton, Adrian also works with the police departments from Old Saybrook, Madison, and Guilford. Adrian does everything from talk to people who have been arrested, to translate documents and take statements from victims.
Since becoming an officer five years ago, Adrian has been helping out with ERACE and its English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Thanks to his fluency in foreign languages and Clinton’s large Spanish-speaking population, Adrian has been a vital resource in dispelling misconceptions between the police and the community.
At its meeting last month, Adrian and Clinton Police officer Joseph Popovich spoke to a group of parents to dispel any misconceptions about the police and the rights that people hold.
“One specific concern was police corruption. One particular family was from South America, where police corruption is a very big problem. So, when the people come to this country, they don’t trust the police officers here. So, I was very fortunate enough to reach out on behalf of this agency and agencies all over the state to make it clear we’re here to keep everybody safe and that they have rights just like everybody else,” Adrian says.
Other subjects the group covered included proper safety precautions to take if a driver was pulled over, such as always having ID and issuance cards available and remaining inside the vehicle. Adrian said the group became so comfortable with the Police Department that they’d scheduled a tour of the station.
After speaking with the parents, the police officers then talked with the children who attending the program.
“I think it’s really important to reach out to the kids because they are the future of this town and we want them to feel comfortable if they ever need our help,” Adrian says.
Adrian points to the time a five-year old called when the child’s mother had been injured and couldn’t reach the phone as an example of why teaching children about emergency services is so important.
“It says a lot about teaching our youth to take advantage of available resources and reach out should they need help,” he says.