Lizbeth Carrillo became Patchogue's first Hispanic elected village official on...

Lizbeth Carrillo became Patchogue's first Hispanic elected village official on Dec. 7 when she was sworn in by her boss, Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, who recently retired. Credit: Reece T. Williams

The first time Lizbeth Carrillo met Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri six years ago, she was so angry about a zoning issue that she threatened to run for a seat on the village board.

Rather than dismiss her as a disgruntled constituent, Pontieri said, he invited Carrillo to get involved in local government.

Earlier this month, following a stint on the zoning board, Carrillo filled a vacant trustee seat and made history as Patchogue’s first Latino member of the village board.

"I knew, here’s someone with the fire to be a leader," Pontieri said, recalling his initial encounter with Carrillo. "She had strong beliefs."

Those qualities have carried Carrillo, 34, to positions where she hopes to help improve the lives of her fellow Latinos.

In addition to her Patchogue post, Carrillo works part-time for the Suffolk County Police Department as a Hispanic community liaison and administrative assistant. Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, who retired last week, administered the oath of office on Dec. 7 when Carrillo took her trustee seat during ceremonies at Patchogue Village Hall.

Carrillo, who moved to Patchogue at age 4 when her family emigrated from Ecuador, said her new role gives her another way to help people.

"I want to do that for my community," Carrillo told Newsday recently. "Any way to assist, I do it. It just feels good."

Carrillo said her police department role includes convening gatherings for Latinos to meet with cops. She also launched a Spanish-language police department Facebook page that has grown to have more than 5,000 likes.

"It’s thinking outside the box," Carrillo said, adding the social media page seeks to explain how to file a police report and why police make traffic stops.

Carrillo joined the police department in 2018, four years after the department entered an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to reform the way it handles reports of crimes against Latinos.

Federal authorities had launched a probe following the 2008 murder of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, 38, in Patchogue. Medford teenager Jeffrey Conroy was convicted in 2010 of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime for fatally stabbing Lucero. Conroy, 30, is serving a 25-year prison sentence upstate in Clinton Correctional Facility.

Six other teens pleaded guilty to assault and other charges for their roles in the attack.

Carrillo said she didn’t know Lucero but said she owes her police department and village jobs to efforts to foster inclusion in the years after his death.

"Marcelo Lucero’s tragedy taught everybody something," she said. "It taught Suffolk diversity."

Pontieri said Carrillo’s village role sends a message that the community’s Hispanic residents "are a part of it, that they are seen." About 30% of Patchogue’s 12,321 residents in 2019 were Latino or Hispanic, according to U.S. Census statistics.

"The community then is recognized — the knowledge that they have, that they are an important part of the community," he said. "Liz is important in that she has been serving the community" and understands what Hispanic residents need.

Carrillo replaced former trustee Sal Felice, who resigned last month. She said she plans to run in March to complete Felice’s unexpired four-year term. Patchogue village trustees are paid $15,000 annually.

As trustee, Carrillo, who also serves as outreach director at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in the village, said she hopes to help Latino residents strengthen their bonds with the community.

One idea, she said, is to host celebrations of Hispanic culture that recognize the diverse traditions of Latinos who come from different nations in different parts of the world.

"I think we need to be involved. I learned that in the different projects I’ve been involved in," she said. "Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the more powerful you are."

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