Your favorite police officer of 2014 returns to the helm, though he looks a little different this time around.
Now a group supervisor with the Chatham Savannah Counter Narcotics Team, the good sergeant has switched out his blue uniform for jeans and has grown out a beard to keep his identity on the down-low. (Does he not look like Serpico-era Al Pacino, except taller? Anyone?)
While Arango serves mostly as a leader and mentor to the CNT officers busting up drug rings and meth labs, he’d rather do it from the streets than sit behind a desk.
“I prefer to be as hands on as possible,” says the 11 year veteran of SCMPD who also assists with the SWAT team. “I’m out there with my guys.”
The Savannah native and Armstrong grad once thought he might go to law school after college, but the pull of the police department has kept him in the ranks, in spite of the current climate for cops in this country. The terrifying and tragic events of the last two years—including the deaths of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray at the hands of police—have put the conduct of every officer in the spotlight.
“Social media has definitely changed the way we do things,” he says, musing that body cameras have their pros and cons. “Public perception has made a lot of good cops gun shy about doing their jobs.”
He reports that cocaine and crack sales are down, meth is up and heroin is “coming back in a big way.” From his perspective, it is this thriving drug market that drives the violent crime in Savannah and Chatham County.
“It’s about the money,” he says. “Plus, these kids don’t know how to talk to each other, they don’t know how to fight. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of predatory people out there who have no concept of human life or what the consequences are for their actions. They just shoot. ”
He remains compassionate for those committing crimes and shakes his head at a broken justice system that offers little in the way of rehabilitation.
“There’s always opportunity for redemption,” he says. “But you’ve got kids going into prison with a GED in weed and coming out with a Ph.D in armed robbery.”
Married to local actress/athletic star Celia Arango, the dad of two says he doesn’t play much good cop/bad cop at home with his kids.
“I guess I’m kind of an anomaly. I’m not super strict,” he laughs. “If you limit things, it usually backfires, so we just teach common sense.”
While he acknowledges that the socioeconomic tangle of poverty, crime and apathy may always exist here, Arango chooses to focus on making Savannah safer, one bust at a time.
“It can be overwhelming. But I just try to do my job with integrity.” —Jessica Leigh Lebos
Runner-up: Barry Lewis