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Paul Velez and his wife Maria (Photo courtesy of Paul Velez).
Paul Velez and his wife Maria (Photo courtesy of Paul Velez).

UNLV Police Officer Provides Friendly Face to Serious Business

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Gaining access to the building is not as simple as walking into the Student Union. A bold black gate guards the doorway. It screeches at the slightest touch, alerting all who are near that a visitor is attempting to enter.

Inside the gate, an intercom with a note reading “Ring for assistance,” still stands between anyone wishing to enter the building and the officers.

The officer who opens the door is often abrupt.

“What do you need?” he growls.

After such a cold greeting it may be a bit of a shock to be greeted by the friendly clip of Paul Velez’s New York accent.

“Good to see yah,” Velez, a UNLV police officer, says with an outreached hand.

Velez’s friendly demeanor and openness with information may be the reason he is so well suited for his job as the public information officer for the UNLV force.

Assistant Director of Police Services Sandy Seda says that friendliness serves the department well.

“There are huge differences between a police officer and a firefighter,” Seda says . “Everyone loves a firefighter but no one wants to see police officers, but that’s not something I notice with Paul. He embodies all characteristics of officer friendliness.”

The youngest of four children, Velez, 43, was born in Staten Island, a borough of New York. His mother and father, Joseph and Vivian Velez, lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood.

Joseph Velez, full-blooded Puerto Rican, worked as a city bus driver while Vivian Velez, who is full-blooded Italian, worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company.

The Velezes did not grow up speaking Spanish in their home.

“I speak more Spanish than him, which is funny because I’m not even Hispanic,” says Maria Velez, his wife.

That is the way Velez’s parents wanted it.

“Growing up my father wanted us to speak English,” Velez says. “He rarely spoke Spanish around the house. Same with my mother. She rarely spoke Italian around the house.”

Although Velez may not share his parents’ native language, he has followed them in his career.

“Paul’s family, his brothers, his uncle and his father, they were all in public service,” Maria Velez says. “They all had city jobs. One brother worked as a firefighter, one in the post
office, his uncle was a firefighter. They always had jobs in assisting the public, the whole family, so I find that interesting.”

If his family history did not influence his career choice, his love of comic books might have.

“I always joke that since I read a lot of comic books as a kid and since I didn’t have any super powers, I decided I would be a cop,” Velez says. “Then when I was in high school I took a police science class, and that really solidified what I wanted to do.”

His wife believes that comic books may have influenced Velez through the idea of justice being served and making sure everyone is safe and secure.

Before coming to UNLV, Velez worked as a detective in the New York City Police Department in the community affairs borough.

“I was a liaison between the police department and the area where I served,” Velez says. “I was constantly pipelining information from the community and bringing it back to the
department.”

It was during this time that Velez met his wife, Maria. During his celebration dinner for being promoted to detective, Velez ran into a mutual friend who introduced them. At the time she
was not sure how serious they were going to get.

“Paul already had it in his head that he was going to move to Vegas,” Maria Velez says. “I never thought I would actually move here, but we got engaged and here I am.”

After 20 years with the NYPD, Velez retired and moved to Las Vegas.

Initially Velez worked security at the New Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and had no plans to rejoin a police department. Then he heard about the job at UNLV. Chief Jose Elique was
persuasive.

“When Chief Elique described the job to me, I was intrigued because it was so similar to the job I was already doing when I was in the NYPD,” Velez says.

Although Velez was passionate about his new position at the university, it did take some getting used to after working in New York.

“As busy as this town is, it’s still not as busy as New York,” Velez says. “I had to adjust to how to slow down a little bit and on starting a new life. I left a job of 20 years and a life of 40
years.”

Maria Velez had three children before her marriage to Velez, one son and two daughters. Both of her daughters currently live in Las Vegas, and one attends UNLV and works at the
Starbucks in the Student Union as a barista.

“They love it here,” Maria Velez says. “They have adjusted better than I have. I love the weather and we have a beautiful lifestyle. It’s just hard adjusting to not having any family or
friends here but other than that, it’s fine.”

Maria Velez still flies to New York every five to six weeks for work.

Between Velez monitoring several campus events during the week and on the weekends and his wife flying back and forth, spending time together may be a struggle but it is something that they have learned to do.

“We go to the gym together. I love to cook so we make sure we have a family meal. Especially if he’s off on Sunday, we have a traditional Italian sit down dinner,” Maria Velez says.

“Sometimes if Paul is getting off late we will arrange to go to a late show on the Strip and do the Vegas thing.”

Although the UNLV campus may not be as dangerous as the New York City streets, Maria Velez still worries for her husband’s safety, especially since he does not take his job
lightly.

“I worry about some kind of active shooter on campus,” Maria Velez says. “He’d be one of the first people on the scene, so I worry about him in that respect.”

However, Velez loves what he does and could not see him doing anything else.

Velez says that if he retires, it would not be for another 10 to 15 years. Upon retiring he and his wife hope to travel together, something that they both enjoy.

“Our goal is Australia once Paul retires,” Maria Velez says. “We plan to keep our home in Vegas, though. This will always being our home base.”

However, full retirement may never be on the horizon for Velez.

“I don’t think he’ll ever not be in security of some sort or a police officer,” Maria Velez says. “I think he’ll always be a police officer on reserve. He believes in what he does and he
loves doing what he does.”

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