Unlike some parts of the South Carolina low country, which have seen a tremendous surge in Hispanic population over the past decade, the number of Latinos living in Hampton County has remained relatively small. They currently comprise just 4% of the county's 20,000 residents.
But in December, Varnville resident, Alicia Parra, discovered that even though their numbers are small, the Hampton County Sheriff's Office is anxious to protect and serve them with the same diligence it provides to every other resident in the county.
“A thief broke into our house before Christmas,” Parra said. “I was terrified and hid my children in a back room, and 'Thank God' we were not harmed. When the police came to investigate, I was so happy to meet Deputy Christina Hernandez. She spoke to me in Spanish and promised that the police would investigate this terrible crime.”
Deputy Hernandez grew up in New York City where her Puerto Rican father, Luis Hernandez, spent 30 years as an officer with the New York Police Department. On September 11, 2001, he was among the first officers on the scene after a terrorist plane struck the South Tower of The World Trade Center. He was escorting survivors from that building when it collapsed into a pile of rubble behind them. After 30 years of service, Hernandez retired in 2008 and moved his family to South Carolina where he spent several years on the Hampton, South Carolina police department before retiring for good and moving to Florida.
“I guess you could say I followed in my Dad's footsteps,” Deputy Hernandez said. “I grew up speaking Spanish at home so now I am the person who is contacted whenever we need an interpreter.”
Alicia Parra was not able to provide a good description of the man who broke into her home.
“I know that there are many Hispanics in our neighborhoods who are being robbed,” Alicia Parra said. “But people are often afraid to call the police. I want to share my positive experience so my friends and neighbors will understand that our police are here to help us. After meeting with me, Deputy Hernandez came back to our house with food and gifts for our kids.”
“Every Christmas, the Sheriff's department organizes a food and toy drive to assist local families,” Deputy Hernandez said. “We get names of family members, shoe and clothing sizes and collect food and clothing so they can have a good holiday experience. After meeting Alicia, I wanted her family to be included in our efforts. ”
“I recognize that there is a trust issue between law enforcement and our Hispanic neighborhoods,” Deputy Hernandez said. “When we drive down their streets in our marked units, it's not uncommon to see people turn away and move back inside their homes. But if they are victims of crime, we are not concerned with their legal status. We want to protect them the same as any other resident of Hampton County. My job is to make them feel comfortable sharing their problems with us.”
As one of the few Spanish-speaking law enforcement officers in Hampton County, Hernandez' language skills keep her busy.
“Sometimes I am called on to serve both sides of the law,” she said. “I've interviewed victims some days then turned around and helped interdiction teams interrogate criminal suspects. I'm just happy that my language skills can be used to support both our residents and our Sheriff's department.”
The Hampton County Sheriff's Office is located at 411 Cemetery Road, in Varnville, S.C. For more information, you can contact Deputy Christina Hernandez at 803-914-2200.