Richard E. Perez

Richard E. Perez is the first Hispanic police chief in Wilton Manors. (Mike Stocker, S-S / January 7, 2009)

Richard Perez has established a few firsts in his career in law enforcement. Becoming the first Hispanic chief of police in Wilton Manors in 2005 came after he retired from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. There, he was the department's first Hispanic sergeant and, in 1998, its first captain.

"I helped break that little line," said Perez. "But I got promoted because I did the job. Law enforcement in the early '80s was male, predominantly white non-Hispanic."

Citizens accustomed to a mostly white police force weren't always kind to police officers of color. Perez rememberd a white citizen in a wide straw hat and cowboy boots driving his vehicle into the back of what he called a "car full of coloreds." He had been drinking and was giving a woman Fort lauderdale police officer difficulty when Perez arrived as back up.

The citizen groaned. "Doesn't Fort Lauderdale have any white officers?" Perez recalls him asking.

Perez never believed he would see an African-American elected president. But he's excited about what his election means for women, Hispanics and other minority groups.

"I think it's wide open now," Perez said. "Women, Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans – if they can do the job, give them a shot."

Perez said he would advise President-elect Barack Obama to "be our president, and a black man second. He's my president, too."

Click here for Yves Geffrard's story