The Rev. Derek Garcia has for years lent his spiritual prowess to the Nassau County Police Department, speaking to recruits about issues in the Hispanic community, mentoring teens in the Youth Academy and offering prayers to officers.
When his brother, Paul Garcia, became a New York State trooper two years ago, Derek Garcia’s dedication to law enforcement intensified, he said.
The Great Neck native, a senior pastor at the El Tabernaculo de Gozo Church in East Meadow, is making his relationship with Nassau police official, accepting an appointment to be a department chaplain — the second Hispanic to hold the post, according to department officials.
“When my brother first started being a police officer, it was a lot of fun, hearing his experiences,” said Garcia, 33, of East Meadow. “But one day, my brother was telling the whole family one of his experiences ... He was approaching a car and it was tinted windows and he was really worried. Hearing the humanity in his heart, it tore me to pieces. ... My heart started being more in love with the police.”
County Executive Edward Mangano last month appointed Garcia, one of six department chaplains, to the post for which he will be paid an annual salary of $24,753.
Department chaplains typically help preside over department events and offer spiritual guidance to officers.
“He has the respect of the community and the members of this department,” said acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter. “It’s my belief he’ll add a significant value to building relationships within the department and the community.”
Garcia assumes the role as the ranks of the department have grown more diverse. As of late June, 19 percent of the department’s sworn members were nonwhite, up from 11 percent in 2014, according to department statistics.
Officers who identify as Hispanic comprise 6.4 percent, up from 5.4 percent in 2014, the statistics show.
Garcia graduated from Great Neck North High School and also attended BOCES in Farmingdale for aviation, he said. Since 2006, he has been a board member of the Long Island Hispanic Pastoral Association.
“To me it’s a huge honor to be able to represent the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.
Garcia, whose father is from Guatemala and mother is from Brazil, said he’s honored to represent his heritage and be able to offer outreach to Spanish-speakers in their own language.
A conversation with an officer friend cemented that notion, as the officer wondered how his family would cope if he was ever hurt on the job.
Garcia said the officer told him, “ ‘If someone were to happen to me, who would talk to my mother? My mother speaks Spanish and only Spanish, who would talk to her?’ That really impacted me.”