Richard Ramirez terrorized Southern Californians in the mid-1980s during his "Night Stalker" killing spree. But in Toledo, teenager Tom Gonzales was following the man who was hot on the killer's heels, Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Gil Carrillo.
Sergeant Carrillo helped cracked the case to bring Ramirez to justice and ultimately the death penalty for 40-plus murders. The sergeant also inspired Mr. Gonzales by that time to pursue a law enforcement career.
Mr. Gonzales has been a ranger for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area 8 1/2 years, most of that as an investigator. Since 2000, he has been president of the Ohio chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, which is highlighting the work of Hispanic law enforcement officers.
"I've always been a military person, uniform and all," Mr. Gonzales, 34, said. "As a kid, I saw this detective in the Night Stalker case. I found out his name was Gil Carrillo. I was always impressed with him and how he handled himself. That led to thinking about a career in law enforcement."
It was through NLPOA that he finally was able to meet his inspiration, Sergeant Carrillo, several years ago at one of the organization's national conferences. He said NLPOA has provided an avenue for professional development and for ways Latino officers around the country to meet, mentor, and encourage other Hispanics to enter the field.
Mr. Gonzales, a 1988 graduate of Woodward High School, works throughout the Metroparks system in northwest Ohio. He said though crime is low, the rangers try to maintain a high profile and be available for the parks' many visitors.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time it's pretty quiet and peaceful out here," Mr. Gonzales said. "Right now, we've had a run of smash-and-grabs, people breaking into cars and taking purses and wallets and other types of valuables. What we want to do is maintain our visibility in the park and let people know that we're here."
Terry Ferguson, the patrol supervisor with the metropark rangers, said Mr. Gonzales epitomizes what he wants the public to see in his rangers.
"He is thorough, professional, and has impeccable integrity," Mr. Ferguson said. "He's always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I know he's very caring and his priorities are definitely his family. He's just one of those all-around likeable guys. I don't know of any negative qualities about him."
Jeff Sabo, the DARE officer with the Sylvania Police Department, is the president of the Toledo chapter of the NLPOA. He said Mr. Gonzales helped start the Toledo chapter, the only local chapter in the state, and has been supportive through his position as the state president.
"He was here at the ground level working to get this organization started," Officer Sabo said. "I consider him a brother. He's helped in every aspect of this organization. He is loyal, family-oriented, and a caring sort. I think he is a role model for Latino youth because he shows the possibilities that exist in law enforcement for youth to get involved with."
Mr. Gonzales said his biggest goals are to start NLPOA chapters in Cleveland and Columbus. He and Mr. Sabo are working together to put together the second annual Judge Joseph Flores Latino Peace Officer of the Year Awards reception at the South branch Toledo-Lucas County Public Library on Thursday. The banquet is the group's highest profile event ever. Mr. Gonzales said the Officer of Year award was named after the Lucas County juvenile court judge, who died of cancer last year, because of his support in the early formation of the Toledo chapter.
Two awards will be given for the top Latino and Latina peace officers in the area.
"NLPOA is dedicated to mentoring youth and getting them to think about a career in law enforcement," Mr. Gonzales said. "We try to do a lot of one-on-one with students and training with non-Hispanic officers about the community. We also work with the community to help them understand the role of the law enforcement agencies."
Mr. Gonzales is a staff sergeant with the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing. He traveled overseas five times as a weapons load crew chief as the wing flew missions over a No Fly zone in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. He also represents the park on northwest Ohio's homeland security network of law enforcement agencies.
Mr. Gonzales was born in Toledo, but lived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Houston before returning to Toledo. He said during his off time, he enjoys spending time with his son Nalo, 9 and daughter, Alana, 7, who recently moved to Columbus with their mother.