Oxford, MS — Officer Atziri Ortiz is bridging the gap between the Hispanic community and the police department while also opening doors for others to follow in her footstep.
Oxford Police Officer Atziri
She is the first Hispanic police officer to the Oxford Police Department (OPD), according to Police Chief Major Jeff McCutchen. She is also currently one of five female officers at OPD with an additional two in the school resources.
Officer Ortiz grew up in Mexico where she lived until she was 7 years old. Her parents decided to move to the United States and she finished middle school here. Her parents then decided to go back to Mexico during her high school years.
During her time back and forth from Mexico and Mississippi, Officer Ortiz was here on a green card. When she turned eighteen she worked alone and got her citizenship, making her a United States citizen.
After graduating from New Albany High School, Officer Ortiz attended the University of Mississippi, where she earned her bachelor of science degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis in Homeland Security and a minor in Political Science.
“I always knew I either wanted to be a police officer or a ninja,” said Officer Ortiz. “I always liked the way they appeared in movies.”
She knew that being a police officer in Mexico would be extremely dangerous so she decided she wanted to finish her schooling in the U.S.
Her original goal was to get to work with the University Police Department but after some persuasion from officers at OPD she applied and received the job shortly after.
Her Hispanic background is something that has helped her on the job due to the fact that she speaks both Spanish and English.
She said since coming on board with OPD almost a year ago that she has been able to use her bilingual talent. Many officers will pull over Spanish speaking citizens and Officer Ortiz is able to translate for them over the phone.
“She brings new information to us as officers from her experience as a Hispanic female,” said Oxford Police Chief Major Jeff McCutchen. “Her life experience is something that we can learn and grow from. She has opened doors to our Hispanic community.”
Officer Ortiz’s current Sergeant Jeff Bishop, also spoke highly of her in her short time being an OPD officer.
“I think that the fact that she is Hispanic will open up more opportunities for Hispanics and other minorities in our department.” Sergeant Bishop said. “She has told me that she has been asked by other Hispanics about being a police officer and she speaks highly of the profession and the men and women of OPD. I think she has a tremendous opportunity to bridge that gap for us.”
The Pew Research Center reports that “Hispanics are the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic group in local police departments in the United States.”
However, Hispanic officers are still underrepresented in the United States.
According to Data USA: Police Officers, “77.7% of Police officers are White, making that the most common race or ethnicity in the occupation. Representing 13.8% of Police officers, Black is the second most common race or ethnicity in this occupation.”
From the Data USA: Police Officers
Officer Ortiz said that her goal of being a police officer was to help those who could not necessarily help themselves. Her parents and family friends, who were non-English speakers, were a large part of her inspiration.
“It’s hard to say but they are being taken advantage of for that reason and my mom doesn’t know English at all. I would always be with her trying to translate for her just so she won’t get taken advantage of like that,” Officer Ortiz said. “As an officer, I could kind of help in a way when people need help. They are sometimes scared to call officers because usually, they don’t speak English. They don’t have any license, but they are legal here.”
During her time at the University of Mississippi, Officer Ortiz worked at Sam’s Cell Phone Repair on Jackson. She said people would come in all the time saying they did not speak English.
When she took her job at OPD those customers remembered that she spoke Spanish and knew she had taken her officer job.
“The dispatcher said that more Hispanic people are calling and they’re just like asking or saying ‘no speak English, Officer Ortiz” and they put me on call. So I guess in a way I’m helping my Heritage,” said Ortiz.
While her bilingual ability is impressive, physical fitness is also very important for police officers.
Officer Ortiz does not lack physical qualifications. She won 1st on the Female Physical Training award in the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Academy (MLEOTA) during her training.
OPD Officer Logan Turner, Officer Ortiz’s classmate, noted just how impressive her scores during their training were.
“Our class was predominately male, 60 to be exact, and only 10 females,” Officer Turner said. “Of the 70 of us in the class, only 11 were selected for “rank and file” (Company Commander, Platoon Leader, Squad Leader) positions. Of those positions filled, only 3 were filled by females. Officer Ortiz was one (Squad Leader).”
When she decided that being a police officer was what she wanted, Ortiz said she began training. She said it is important to her that she continues to train and always try to get on the level of the male officers. She knows genetically there will always be differences but she said she can always work to get on their level.
She noted that OPD officers are given allotted gym time but she typically spends time outside of work training and keeping in top condition.
“The fact that she is Hispanic and a female are, in my opinion, secondary to her ability to be outstanding at what she does and the career she is pursuing,” said Sergeant Bishop. “As she gains more experience and confidence she will continue to do well.”
“She is so unique. She brings a fresh attitude and perception to law enforcement. She is approachable and easy to talk to. She doesn’t act as though she has something to prove but she works every day to make sure she is leaving the city better than she found it,” said Major McCutchen.
Officer Ortiz said that her day to day work is pretty simple right now. She is still working out the different beats that Oxford is broken up by and patrolling to learn the streets. Beats are the different sections Oxford is broken up into for easier navigation
“Most of what I am doing right now are simple things like seat belt checks and stopping people when they don’t have their headlights on at night,” said Officer Ortiz.
She also said that whenever they are dispatched, they are normally in pairs.
“They are there just in case and the guys are naturally stronger than us, so they’re just there for a backup,” said Officer Ortiz.
Officer Ortiz advice for anyone considering joining the police force is to work hard for it.
“I didn’t think I was going to be here and I was not sure how to actually get there but just take it step-by-step” she said, I started training 3 years ago because I knew I needed to be physically fit to be a police officer and with my size I had to have something to balance it.”