Living Acts of Love and Service
Lieutenant Carlos Camacho lives out his faith on his beat, and in his home and parish community
By Bridget Martin, Photography by Jeff Dachowski
It’s a long way from Harlingen, Texas, to Nashua, N.H., but for Lieutenant Carlos Camacho, a 16 year veteran of the Nashua Police Department, there have been two constants on his journey: his faith, and the service to which that faith has called him.
Carlos grew up in southern Texas, near the Mexican border, and his upbringing reflected the traditional elements of Mexican-American culture, including the family’s observance of the Catholic faith. He was very close to his paternal grandmother, a devout Catholic who encouraged her grandchildren to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for guidance and who looked forward to visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine during her visits. On his maternal side, Carlos’ great aunt belonged to a convent in Mexico City and was often accompanied by her Mother Superior during her stays with the family.
Faith was an integral part of Carlos’ childhood and he dutifully attended CCD, received his sacraments, and went to weekly Mass with his mother. However, it was not until his enlistment in the US Coast Guard that Carlos began to realize the steadying force of faith in his life.
From a very early age Carlos felt a calling to become a police officer, and the Coast Guard was an ideal precursor to the profession, combining his love of the ocean with the ability to gain law enforcement experience. At 18, he left home for boot camp in Cape May, N.J., and Sundays were the only days that recruits were granted personal time during their rigorous training schedules. Carlos joined many of his peers across faiths when they flocked to the base’s chapel on Sunday mornings. “I felt safe and comfortable there,” Carlos recalls. It was also a way for the young man to feel connected to his family despite the distance. “Everything I learned about faith growing up came back,” he says.
After boot camp, Carlos was stationed on the Texas border and later transferred to Northern California. There he befriended fellow officers who would be instrumental in helping him acclimate to his next, colder assignment on a Coast Guard Cutter in Boston. One of his friends grew up in Methuen and regularly invited Carlos to join her family for dinners and holidays. During these trips he came to know his friend’s sister, Manon, who would become his wife.
Marrying Manon, who grew up in a devout French Canadian family, was another turning point in Carlos’ faith life. He came to appreciate the Catholic traditions her family enjoyed, including trips to Quebec around Easter. He recognized the universality of the Church teachings and practices that brought people together. “Whether you’re listening to Mass in French, English or Spanish, the messages are going to be the same,” he says.
When their daughters were born, the Camachos knew they wanted to raise them with the strong sense of community fostered by the Church at home and at school. Initially a proponent of public schools, Carlos now maintains that the cost of Catholic education is “a financial sacrifice that is outweighed by the benefits.” Olivia, 15, is a freshman at Central Catholic High School and Sophia, 12, is a sixth grader at St. Monica School in Methuen. He has witnessed the positive effect that Catholic education has had on shaping the girls’ values through activities like creating faith-based crafts in elementary school and learning Gospel stories as part of their standard curriculum. Carlos recognizes his role in supporting his daughters’ education and faith. “It’s important for me to be a good Catholic role model as a father by embodying the lessons they learn at school and going to church as a family together every week,” he says.
In addition to his wife and daughters, Carlos cherishes his extended family: the men and women of the Nashua Police Department. In many ways, he recognizes a synthesis between his roles as a lieutenant, father, and man of faith. “My values as a police officer and as a Catholic are the same,” he contends. “Help others – especially those in need.”
As the lieutenant in charge of the department’s Professional Standards Bureau, which oversees recruitment, training, accreditation and Internal Affairs, Carlos’ responsibilities take him and his team throughout New England to attract top talent and ensure that all sworn officers receive cutting edge firearms and special assignment training. When he is not on duty, you might find him manning the grill at a Knights of Columbus picnic, coaching his eldest daughter’s travel soccer team or watching his younger daughter’s latest theater performance. He even manages a seasonal charity drive: for a $10 donation to St. Monica Parish in Methuen, Mass., he will pick up and discard Christmas trees after the holiday.
As a leader in the Nashua Police Department, Carlos is a fixture at community events and dedicated to conducting outreach in every corner of the community, including among the most vulnerable populations. When refugees are assigned to Nashua for their resettlement, he is one of the first people called to help them adjust to their new community.
“Many of these people come from countries where they do not trust the police,” Carlos explains. When he is notified of refugee arrivals, Carlos schedules time to speak with them and explain safety protocols. He arrives in uniform so that the refugees will be able to easily identify officers if they ever need help. When an Iraqi family arrived in Nashua, he gave them a tour of the station, hoping to increase the family’s comfort level with the police. “It’s my responsibility to let them know that they are part of this community, that we are here to protect them, and that they can trust us. I let them know that no matter how insignificant something may seem, they should call us for help,” Carlos says.
He has formed close bonds with many of the refugees he welcomed to Nashua over the years, as evident from his invitations to their Ramadan celebrations, Jewish holidays and other momentous events. The refugees’ willingness to share pieces of their culture with the Nashua community reinforces Carlos’ opinion that the police should be trusted role models for all members of the community. “It’s important to break down the cultural barriers between the refugees and the police.”
Carlos also strives to eliminate barriers between officers and the city’s youth. He is chair of Nashua’s Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committee (Nashua RED), a group mandated by the federal government’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which is dedicated to implementing programs designed to keep all juveniles – especially minority juveniles – out of the criminal justice system. Through his work with Nashua RED, Carlos piloted the Mirror Program in Nashua. The program sends uniformed officers to schools, Boys & Girls clubs, and other youth organizations in the region and encourages them to get to know the young members of the community on a personal level, answering any questions they may have. The officers then initiate a role-reversal exercise with their audience, simulating a situation where the police have been called to evict juveniles from trespassing.
Carlos has received feedback that the experience is eye-opening for both parties involved, and he hopes the experience helps officers and young people understand each other’s perspectives and develop a sense of mutual trust and respect that extends beyond the demonstration. “The relationship between the community and officers comes down to communication,” he maintains. In response to demand, Carlos plans to expand the Mirror Program to schools throughout Nashua. He emphasizes that the success of the program, and the other initiatives he is involved in, is a reflection of his department’s steadfast teamwork. “The men and women of the Nashua police department are amazing,” he says. “In everything I do, I’m part of a team of officers that ensures its success.”
The department’s success correlates directly with recruitment efforts, and Carlos is responsible for maintaining the police department’s “top-notch” reputation by managing recruitment, a process that includes police testing, oral boards, extensive background checks, polygraph examinations, and psychological and medical testing. “Recruiting is something the Nashua Police Department and all of us in the Professional Standards Bureau take very seriously,” Carlos explains. “We want to make sure we have a great candidate who we will teach to be a police officer but who already has a good moral character and is looking to join a profession that puts others before themselves.” The process is careful and time consuming; it can take up to a year before the best candidate is sworn in as a police officer. Out of the hundreds of applicants that apply annually, the Nashua Police Department hires 10 officers on average each year.
To attract the best candidates, Carlos and his team travel across New Hampshire and New England, hosting recruitment tables and information sessions at events. It is important that members of the community feel represented by their police officers and as one of the only Spanish-speaking officers on the force, Carlos makes a point to seek applicants from diverse backgrounds. Every August, he exhibits a recruiting table at St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Parish’s Latino Festival. As authentic dishes from Ecuadorian, Mexican and Honduran parishioners sizzle around him, Carlos distributes informational flyers and invites attendees to explore the police command vehicle nearby. The festival is also an ideal way for the police to be visible to the public and bolster relationships. “It’s a great way to support the church and reach out to the community,” he explains.
Carlos saves his own cooking – he specializes in Texas barbeque and traditional Mexican food – for dinners and picnics with his Knights of Columbus chapter at St. Monica, where he has been a member for seven years and currently serves as a lector. Acutely aware of the importance of educating the community on public safety, his spiritual insights are often sprinkled with practical crime prevention advice. He works with the Knights to spearhead community fundraisers and respond to church needs. He is also committed to ensuring that the parish priests have everything they need, maintaining that the priest’s responsibility to the public is as important – and challenging – as a police officer's. As in police work and fatherhood, setting a standard of leadership and support is central to Carlos’ work with the Knights. “We try to be role models for the parish,” he explains.
Mother Theresa once observed that “faith in action is love, and love in action is service.” By transforming our faith into “living acts of love,” she said, “we put ourselves in contact with God Himself, with Jesus our Lord.” By this measure Lieutenant Carlos Camacho – on his beat, at the grill, in his home and among the diverse peoples in Nashua’s many neighborhoods – has put himself right where his grandmother encouraged him to be all those years ago, at home with God.