Detective Agustin Rodriguez, Crime Stoppers’ 2020 Officer of the Year, is the new face of policing–not just in Flagler County.
In an age rife with, to put it gently, guarded skepticism about the badge, he’s the reassuring voice here to tell you that some assumptions are outdated, and some, particularly locally, have generally been wide of the mark.
“It’s hard to pitch this as a career choice for somebody that’s just starting out based on the way society has been leaning over the past several years,” Rodriguez, a member of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Major Case Unit for over a year, says. “I will say though that law enforcement in my opinion has certainly changed from what we know to be the stereotypical, aggressive cops of the past that only care about arresting people. There’s definitely a compassionate side from what I see among the younger people coming in.”
With a nod to social media’s influence and a more progressive tilt since the street demonstrations of the last few years, “you see a lot more good hearted people that are willing to work extra hard to help people and do the right thing,” Rodriguez says.
That’s especially the case locally, where the Black Lives Matter movement has been more muted thanks in large part to a police agency that hasn’t had an officer-involved fatality in nine years, only one officer-involved shooting, and more than half a dozen instances where individuals brandishing guns or other weapons in confrontations with cops could have been shot, but weren’t. De-escalation is at a premium. “There’s not an atmosphere of just aggressive proactivity from police that are just about getting people getting locked up behind bars,” Rodriguez says. “That’s not a reflection of our agency. We have a very progressive and respectful group of people that are motivated by the right things, by helping people, by making a difference, and by being a part of the community.”
Reflecting those principles, it’s perhaps no surprise that Rodriguez, 37, a native of New York City who grew up on Long Island before moving to Palm Coast in 2002, was the agency’s Deputy of the Month earlier this year and Crime Stoppers’ Officer of the Year, an honor he won chiefly through closing three high-profile cases involving violent offenders: a home-invasion robbery, an attempted murder and robbery, and a shooting.
The three cases netted six arrests: Jimaya Baker, Diovion Smith and Princess Williams, the co-conspirators in the robbery-shooting that left a man disabled; Alexander Brown, now serving 10 years in state prison, and Isaiah Johnson, who robbed a man at gunpoint; and DeVantell Cooper, accused of shooting at a passenger car on U.S. 1. Prosecutors dropped the Cooper case when a victim chose not to pursue the matter, but he still faces drug-related felony charges.
Rodriguez is quick to credit the team of detectives and the team work that goes into cases (there are 10 in the Major Case Unit), and the immediate support the team gets from Staly and the administration when they’re pursuing leads–down to approving a recent trip to Virginia to interview a witness in a homicide case. “I know I’m receiving the award myself but I really have to acknowledge my supervisors and all the other detectives I work with,” he says. “Most of the things we do ends up being a team effort.” He also credits an agency that based on his discussions with deputies who’ve been there longer, is “leaps and bounds ahead of where we used to be,” even when compared to other agencies of comparable size. The observation is reflected in the agency’s clearance rate, the energy put into every case and the trust invested in the ranks from the top down, he says.
But it’s also known within the unit that, his leadership abilities aside, Rodriguez has an uncanny ear for and understanding of the criminal element in the county. He’s a one-man intelligence unit. That combined with a fixation on problem-solving drives his method.
“Having served on the Crime Stoppers awards committee and as a past President, I can tell you firsthand how fierce the competition is and how hard it is for the committee to select a winner from so many outstanding nominations,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “Detective Rodriguez goes above and beyond to fight for justice for the victims of heinous crimes. His commitment to excellence is an example to all of us and he is very deserving of this award.”
Normally the award is presented at the Crime Stoppers’ annual banquet. But Covid-19 upended those plans too. Instead, Rodriguez will receive the award during the Flagler County Commission meeting Monday shortly after 9 a.m.
Rodriguez–now married, with two children–hadn’t always been sure what he wanted to do as a career. He tried the restaurant business, tried a few other things, but didn’t find anything he was passionate about. His path was eventually inspired by his father’s service as an MP in the military: His father suggested law enforcement. Rodriguez took him up on it. He studied at Daytona State College and its Law Enforcement Academy, and had his first job with the Bunnell Police Department in 2010. He had his eyes on the Sheriff’s Office all along. Bunnell was a way to build his resume. It worked. The Sheriff’s Office hired him in 2012. Two years later he joined the narcotics unit, and in 2019, he made the jump to Major Cases, which he feels he’s hit his stride.
“I enjoy solving problems and being able to use skills I have to think outside the box, and present solutions,” he says. “I’m the kind of person that if you hand me a rubik’s cube, I’m intent on finding the solution.”
He’s now in line to be a corporal. Since he speaks with the natural talent of a teacher–he teaches new hires at the agency from time to time–he was asked to spell out his advice to new recruits, or to would-be cops. “Make sure that you’re going to give it your all and try to decide very quickly whether this is for you,” he said. “It is scary sometimes, it is dangerous sometimes, but at the end of the day it is extremely rewarding to be able to help people in their most desperate times.”
E. Hoffa says
…..able to help people in their most desperate times! He really understands the most important duty of a law enforcement officer! I thank him for protecting Flagler County!
Howard Tessler says
Such a great / ethical guy. It concerns me when some people blame police for the social discord that permeates within our country when we should be thanking the vast majority of the officers who, like Officer Rodriquez, are among the pillars of any well established community. * it’s my eternal hope we can all one day return to this line of thinking.
Congratulations officer Rodriguez! You, and we in Flagler County, are very fortunate to live in a place, sadly rare these days, where law enforcement is RESPECTED and APPRECIATED. Back the Blue!
I have been a resident of Palm Coast for eight years now, and I am retired from my law enforcement career that I had for 29 years in southern CA and then WA state. Over the years, I have had numerous very positive interactions with members of the Flagler Co. Sheriff’s Office, and I can attest to our local agency’s excellent reputation for professionalism and strong desire to foster good relationships with the community. I am proud to live in Palm Coast where both the community and law enforcement recognize the importance of working together to reduce crime and maintain the standard of living that we enjoy here. I offer my congratulations to detective Rodriguez for being awarded Officer of the Year, and for recognizing that it takes a team effort as well as mutual cooperation from citizens for any law enforcement effort to be successful. From the sheriff on down, the FCSO does a really good job for us, and I would like them to know that we appreciate each and every one of the sworn and non-sworn members of the sheriff’s office for the incredibly difficult but necessary duties that they perform on our behalf. And, again, to Det. Rodriguez, kudos for a job well done!
Detective Rodriguez was my grandson’s T-Ball coach several years ago. Coach Auggie was so patient and kind to the kids on the team. He is a great asset to the community.
The Geode says
…while the murders of Robert Stubbs and Charles McClendon goes unsolved. They seem to be “crack detectives” on cases that don’t require actual work