Riverhead Police Officer Byron Perez had his arms full at the end of Southampton Kiwanis Club’s 50th Annual Police Awards Ceremony, which honored officers from departments throughout the East End Friday evening.
Officer Perez walked away with two awards, one as his department’s “Officer of the Year” for 2019, and another for his service to the community.
The ceremony, held at the Sea Star Ballroom in Riverhead, honors each department’s officer of the year, as selected by the department, but then, at the end of the ceremony, the Kiwanis Club members select one overall East End officer of the year and a community service award in honor of the late Gerard Buckley of Hampton Bays.
It was the latter award that Mr. Perez picked up, in addition to being named his department’s Officer of the Year.
“Officer Perez is being recognized tonight for his outstanding commitment to our community,” Riverhead Captain Richard Smith said in announcing Mr. Perez’s departmental award, which he knew about in advance. The two awards chosen by the Kiwanis Club are kept secret until the end of the ceremony.
“In past years, when we reviewed candidates for this award, we would lean toward one after an incident or arrest that stood out,” Captain Smith said, adding that there were several officers who met that criteria for 2019.
“However, it was Officer Perez’s consistent efforts — both on and off duty — to take that extra step to work with the community, that made him our choice this year,” he added.
A five-year member of the department, “Byron has been dedicated to his job and helping his community since day one,” Captain Smith said. “As the son of a farm laborer from Guatemala, he grew up to become his hometown’s first full-time Hispanic officer.”
Mr. Perez’s father and other family members were present Friday.
Speaking fluent Spanish, Officer Perez has worked to bridge the gap between local law enforcement and the town’s growing Hispanic population, Captain Smith said. He has also become involved with the Riverhead Community Awareness Program and he helped start a youth soccer program at the high school. He also filled a vacant school board seat for one year and last year was appointed as a School Resource Officer.
Officer Perez was previously named Riverhead News-Review Person of the Year in 2017.
“Many people in law professions talk the talk,” Captain Smith said. “But it’s good that Officer Perez walks the walk. His efforts to be a role model and leader in his community go unmatched. He has made many positive changes in our community and our department, which I know will continue for years to come.”