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120131015 MISSION Police-chief 2755Robert Dominguez first realized he wanted to be a police officer as a sophomore at Edcouch-Elsa High School.

His underage friend who borrowed another friend's cherry red Gran Torino during school and was pulling back onto campus when he was pulled over by a trooper with the Department of Public Safety.

"Somehow with that arrest, seeing that trooper and that car and so forth, that got me interested in law enforcement," Dominguez said.

He graduated high school in 1981 and went on to earn a degree in criminal justice from Pan American University. In March 1987, he started his career with the Mission Police Department.

"I remember that first day when I got in that police car, I said, 'One day I’ll be police chief.'"

Monday, that goal was met when the Mission City Council affirmed Dominguez's appointment as chief and he was sworn into office. Dominguez had served as interim chief since March when former chief Martin Garza was named interim city manager. Garza earned the permanent title in August. He now oversees a department filled with 146 officers and 52 civilian employees.

Garza, Dominguez and former chief Leo Longoria all came up through the department together.

"What this tells me is we're building leaders in our city, building leaders in our police department, and I know that Chief Dominguez will build the next leader for the future of our city," Garza said.

"Even though Dominguez is not from Mission, he has given all his heart, all his effort and his dedication to the city of Mission."

Moving up

Dominguez has served a variety of roles at the police department, from patrolmen to traffic investigator to overseeing student resource officers. It wasn’t long before he started moving up the ranks to corporal and then sergeant.

When Leo Longoria was made chief in April 1996, he called Dominguez into his office and said he was promoting him to assistant chief.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, you have a couple of lieutenants. I’m just a sergeant.’ He said, ‘You don’t understand. You’re going to be my assistant chief,’” Dominguez said.

Looking back, Dominguez thinks his college experience and work ethic had a lot to do with his success at the Mission Police Department. His dad worked for a road crew for Hidalgo County, earning the nickname “Pinke” because he always was red from working in the sun. Dominguez said his dad was poor, but resourceful, and wanted to make sure his children went to college.

At the age of 13, Dominguez started working, selling snow cones in Mercedes and Raymondville. In high school he took a job at a grocery store working 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday because his parents wanted him to concentrate on school during the week. He ended up being the first of his family to graduate from college, taking five years to earn his degree because he was working 40 hours a week while studying.

“Nothing comes easy in life,” Dominguez said. “You always have to work hard at what you do. I just knew that first day that one day I would be chief, and I set that goal for myself, and obviously it took me many years to get here, but I’m here.”

In college, Dominguez was challenged to think outside of the box and look at innovative ways of policing. He took those lessons with him when he started work as an officer in Mission. As a rookie officer, Dominguez said some officers around him believed the mantra “Let’s get them before they get us.”

“In the police business, it’s not all about how many arrests you make and how many tickets you give out, it’s about helping people,” Dominguez said. “Yes, the tickets will come, the arrests will come, but most importantly, you always have to keep in mind we’re here to help the public.”

A department under fire

As interim chief, Dominguez had to make some difficult decisions within his department. Two of his officers were suspended indefinitely in September. One was accused of using excessive force, and another had a positive drug test.

Dominguez said the gentlemen he terminated were good officers, but they made mistakes. Officers need to know they are not immune to the law, he said.

“All I’m doing is protecting the interest of our organization, of the city and, most importantly, of the residents of the community,” he said. “It’s important that they know and understand that they have good hard-working officers working for them and that they can trust.”

As for the Panama Unit, a task force that included sheriff’s deputies and two Mission officers accused of a drug conspiracy, Dominguez said he’d never wish that situation on another chief.

“We have persevered, and we’re moving forward,” Dominguez said. “The integrity of the organization must remain intact. It’s a message to the officers that I will not tolerate any misconduct on their part.

Working together

The new chief believes strongly in working with federal, state and surrounding law enforcement agencies to cut down on crime. As a grant writer for the police department over the years, he’s helped introduce a variety of technology into the department.

Twelve years ago, Dominguez helped the department get grant funding to install laptops in all of the police units. Over the years, the department has added 29 officers through the Community Oriented Policing Services federal program.

As chief, he wants to continue growing the department as the city continues to annex land. Dominguez always is trying to find new and innovative ways to assist officers in their jobs.

For example, he said, cameras at intersections have helped the department solve crimes. In fact, a hit-and-run in the McAllen jurisdiction a few weeks ago was solved by a camera on the Expressway 83 frontage road at the Shary Road intersection. Now he wants to expand that system.

And with 13 miles of river to cover, Dominguez said he wants to look at how technology can make it easier.

“I want to look at those egresses, as far as the critical points that we know along the U.S.-Mexican border that we really need to keep a handle on all this human trafficking and drug trafficking,” Dominguez said.

Only once

During his 17-year tenure as assistant chief, Dominguez said he only eyed another position at another department once. Almost three years ago, he applied for the chief opening in Edinburg. He was offered the position, but he and the city manager couldn’t come to an agreement on salary, so Dominguez stayed in Mission.

“In retrospect, I’m glad I stayed here,” he said. “Basically, I grew up here. I love the people I work with and I love the community and the residents of the community.”

Tuesday, his first morning as chief, Dominguez went to a traffic safety meeting at a local restaurant. When he stepped out to leave, a man came up to him and said, “Sir, I really don’t know you, but I just want to shake your and thank you for the hard work that you all do.”

“There’s bumps and bruises along the way; nobody’s perfect,” Dominguez said. “That says a lot about our organization when I have people stop me like that.”

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