Richard Vela hasn’t devoted more than half of his life to the Valley Stream Auxiliary Police for the recognition. He does it to give back to the community that raised him, a community he still calls home.
Vela, 49, is the commanding officer of Valley Stream’s volunteer Auxiliary Police force, a position he has held for nearly three years after rising through the force’s ranks. Though he never realized his dream of becoming a police officer, he has still helped to protect the community for 29 years, according to family members, colleagues and village officials.
“Richie is very modest,” said his sister, Denise Vela. “He doesn’t like attention being brought to him. He just does what he does because he loves doing it. You give Richie an ‘atta boy’ and he’ll just shrug it off.”
Vela typically devotes 40 to 50 hours a week to the Auxiliary Police, even though he is not paid a dime for that work. It is that selfless dedication to Valley Stream that has earned him the Herald’s selection as its 2012 Person of the Year.
He joined Auxiliary Police Unit No. 108 in 1983. After three years as an officer, he was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant, captain and deputy inspector. In 2010, then-Mayor Ed Cahill nominated him to take over the top post, replacing retiring Chief Joseph Carbonette.
Vela was born in Queens, and attended the since-closed William F. Donahue School in District 24 before graduating from Central High School. His sister recalls that as a teen, Richie and a friend would brings toys to local hospitals — just the beginning of his long commitment to helping others. “Richie was always a giver,” Denise said. “He loves doing for the community.”
While several of the county’s Auxiliary Police departments supplement the Nassau County P.D., Unit 108 is under the auspices of the village. Auxiliary Police officers provide security and control traffic at a variety of events, from the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony to the Memorial Day Parade to the Fourth of July fireworks. They also provide security during village court sessions. “All those things, they run seamlessly because a guy like Rich Vela is behind the scenes,” said Mayor Ed Fare.