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Myrtle Beach Sun-News
Officer's Spanish Is Put To Good Use; Translation Is Just One Of His Duties
By Joyce Armor
April 15, 2004
As the Hispanic population in Horry County grows, one Horry County Police Department officer's phone is ringing more often.
Sgt. Frank Venegas Jr., supervisor of the department's Airport Division, is one of several county officers who speak fluent Spanish and are called on to translate for crime and accident victims, suspects and traffic stops.
Venegas began getting calls from the Horry County Police Department in the 1980s when he was stationed at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
"There were very few Spanish-speaking people in town back then, so they would sometimes call me to translate, either in person or over the radio through links," Venegas said.
In April 1990, he joined the department. Capt. Charlotte Stephens describes Venegas as "a very loyal, very dedicated individual."
"I was told I was the first Hispanic hired by the department," Venegas said.
He was born in Puerto Rico, where his father was an architectural engineer. The family moved to Miami so his father could attend the University of Miami, and Venegas grew up in what is now Little Havana.
When he was in junior high, the family moved to San Pedro, Calif., where his father worked on the landing gear for one of the first flights into space. Then it was back to Puerto Rico for Venegas' high-school years.
"Our parents made us speak Spanish at home, and we spoke English at school," Venegas said. "In Puerto Rico, I also learned to read and write Spanish."
He attended Dade Junior College and the University of Miami before joining the Air Force in 1969. His first duty assignment was Vietnam, where he was a dog handler.
He spent four years on canine duty before getting into the security force of the Air Force.
"Frank was in information and industrial security and responsible for most of the classified material accounts," said Thomas Fiocca, his supervisor then and friend now. "He was, and still is, honest, trustworthy and the consummate professional."
Venegas was in the Air Force for 20 years and five months before retiring and joining the Horry County Police Department.
He has translated for a man stabbed in a farming field, a prisoner at J. Reuben Long Detention Center who was involved in a murder and a woman who gave birth in the back seat of a car in Conway.
"People are more likely to tell the truth to somebody who speaks their language," Venegas said.
Venegas has been on airport duty for 14 years. Airport officers on average come into contact with about 5,000 people a day. They are called for medical emergencies -- most of which stem from kids playing on the escalator or elderly people losing their balance - and when Mace, guns, knives or possible explosive devices are found at the security checkpoint. Passengers also have tried to clear the checkpoint with snakes, iguanas and other creatures.
"We just got called to a ticket counter where two sisters in their 50s got into a fight over paying for a ticket," Venegas said.
Whatever you do, he added, don't leave your car unattended in front of the airport. Whether you speak Spanish or English, that one will get you in big trouble, Venegas said.
Contact freelance writer JOYCE ARMOR at 215-9700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.