By CARRIE PINKARD
USFSP Student Reporter
ST. PETERSBURG – A couple sat on the curb. It was 2 p.m. and they were sharing a bottle of alcohol wrapped in a paper bag.
Police Officer Luis Fres looked over at them from a stop light. He rolled down his window.
“Hey, guys, do me a favor,” he said. “If that’s not fruit punch, please take it elsewhere.”
Fres, 29, could have given the couple citations. He could have stained their records the way a child’s upper lip is stained after drinking too much fruit juice. Instead, he decided to let it go, an action that unusual in his work.
Fres says he is a police officer who is out to keep the community safe, not to ruin lives for no reason.
He tries to see the person behind every offense. He says he understands that he sees them for a fraction of their existence, and that they lead rich, complicated lives outside of that time.
An arrest record can remain with a person forever, he says, and he doesn’t take that lightly.
Some officers set daily quotas for themselves when it comes to arrests and citations, Fres says. They do this to get their numbers up and appear busy to their supervisors.
Fres says he dishes out formal discipline only when he feels it’s truly necessary.
Fres has been a St Petersburg police officer for two and a half years. Before that, he was a corrections officer in Hillsborough County for three years.
Fres says his job is only part of his life, and he tries not to take it home with him.
He lives in North Tampa with his wife, Lily, and two cats, Onyx and Jade. He spends his free time taking Muay Thai lessons, finally catching up on Seinfeld episodes, and playing Zelda on his Nintendo Switch.
Fres might be the only person who enjoys traveling over the Howard Frankland Bridge.
“The bridge provides a good 20 minutes of time to clear my head before and after work,” he said.
He likes the separation the bridge provides between his work life and his home life. Since he lives in Tampa and patrols in St Petersburg, he’s able to get through the day without worrying about having to arrest his neighbors.
Fres says “extreme patience” is what makes him a good police officer.
It helped him last year when he was called to handle a domestic violence case, he said. A woman was being arrested after a dispute with her husband. While Fres was removing her from her home, she spat in his face.
Fres says he was patient with her. He continued to treat her with respect and finished his role in the case.
Months later, Fres was helping a group of kids on the side of the road when their mother walked up. It was the woman from the domestic violence case. She thanked Fres for the way he had treated her and apologized for her behavior.
Fres acknowledges that when you work in a community day in and day out, you’ll see the same people more than once. It’s important to him to build positive relationships with community members.
He also has an easy rapport with fellow squad members.
Each squad member that Fres interacted with on a recent shift had a friendly relationship with him. One officer had white marks all over his back. Fres asked what it was and the officer had no idea. All he did was iron the shirt, he said.
“Oh, those are iron marks, you just don’t know how to iron,” Fres fired back, laughing, before getting into his car.
During his time as a police officer, he’s been at the scene of many gruesome accidents. He’s seen a foot severed from a man’s body and fly 100 feet in the air. He’s arrived at houses where dead bodies have been sitting for weeks.
He says he is able to stay calm through these situations, but animals suffering is what really gets to him.
“I’m a sucker for animals. I see a dead body and it doesn’t affect me, but with an animal I get emotional.”
Fres’ soft spot for animals extends to children. He hopes to become a detective who specializes in child abuse cases.
But for now, Fres is happy with his role as a patrol officer. He says he wants to put in several more good years at this level and learn as much as he possibly can.
“I’m not doing myself any favors if I rush into a detective position,” he said.