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For Temple Terrace police officer, Arabic is key

Officer Nabil el Mehdaoui heads to the scene of an accident in a Temple Terrace neighborhood, which has a large Arab population.
Published Jul. 17, 2015

Not today.

Those are the words embossed onto Officer Nabil el Mehdaoui's wristband.

They're the same words that sit above the door of the Temple Terrace Police Department.

Each day when Mehdaoui starts his patrol, he sees them, and he remembers their meaning.

"It's a law enforcement thing," Mehdaoui said. "It challenges us to be more vigilant during the day. It's a reminder about how dangerous the job is."

Raised in Kelaat Sraghna, Morocco, Mehdaoui, 36, became enamored with the idea of law enforcement. After spending seven unfulfilled years as a hotel manager, he entered the police academy, and later joined the Temple Terrace Police Department. The decision, he said, was one of the best he has ever made.

"Coming from Morocco, there's a little bit of oppression," Mehdaoui said. "It's not that you can't trust the police, but you don't think they're there to help you out. I wanted to help people."

And help he has. Since joining the force two years ago, Mehdaoui has used his skills as a linguist to assist investigations and quell disturbances. Temple Terrace has a significant Arab population, and Mehdaoui said his ability to communicate with residents in their native tongues makes work easier.

"I notice when I do traffic stops and I meet Arabic-speaking citizens, and I start speaking to them in Arabic, it puts them at ease," Mehdaoui said. Mehdaoui said that Temple Terrace was a great fit not only because it had a large Arab population, but because it allowed him the opportunity to be a role model for kids with the same heritage.

Before moving to Temple Terrace, he served as a military linguist in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, and 2009 to 2011. Lessons learned abroad have helped Mehdaoui embrace the trials of law enforcement.

"I look at it like a challenge," Mehdaoui said. "A lot of times, you have people who don't like police because a lot of our contact with them is negative."

Despite these difficult interactions, he said he hasn't experienced a bad day on the force.

"Every day is the best day for me," Mehdaoui said. "Every day, I come to work with a smile and make an impact."

In May, Mehdaoui was named Temple Terrace Police Department's Officer of the Year at Sykes Enterprises' Our Heroes luncheon for his use of Arabic in daily situations.

"It's an honor," Mehdaoui said. "It means that all of my peers and my supervisors value the work that I do."

Temple Terrace police Sgt. Carlos Lopez, 52, said Mehdaoui was one of the most respectful people he had ever met, and that he submitted him for Officer of the Year because of all the work Mehdaoui does to keep residents safe.

"He's eager, he's hard working, and he volunteers all the time," Lopez said. "He just strives to make himself better. His dedication to the job, overall, is the best thing he brings here."

Though he enjoys his job, Mehdaoui is studying criminal justice at Hillsborough Community College, and plans to transfer to the University of South Florida.

"I love patrol, but I'd like to be a well-rounded police officer," Mehdaoui said, "so my next step is detective."

The goal, Mehdaoui said, is to one day earn his master's degree. Until then, he's perfectly happy spending his days on patrol.

"I love my job," Mehdaoui said. "I really do."

Shaker Samman can be reached at ssamman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @shakersamman on Twitter

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