Arkansas City Police Department Sgt. Eric Mata recently was given an award from the Optimists of Arkansas City as their Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
One of the aspects of the job he was applauded for was his work with children and on crimes against children.
“It only takes a moment talking about victimized children to know he holds a true passion for serving those who cannot protect themselves. His vigilance for protecting children is rarely seen,” Mata’s co-worker, Lt. Eric Burr, said during the May 17 City Commission meeting.
“Children are the clearest example to what is good, innocent and pure. Any chance to better a child’s life is a chance to better our future,” Mata said in an interview May 20.
“We want the kids to be safe,” he said of situations in which children are removed from homes.
Mata remained humble about the award when asked.
“It’s really hard to take credit for something that you love to do. It’s also hard to take credit for something so many other people do,” he said. “I feel like I’m claiming the credit, and that’s definitely not the case.”
“I hope that I can continue to live up to the standard that the law enforcement officers that have received (awards) in the past have shown. The pressure is on,” Mata added with a smile.
Mata knew at a young age what he wanted to do with his life.
He might have contemplated the idea of becoming an archaeologist at some point, but law enforcement was what he truly wanted to do.
“There’s always been something in me that’s wanted to help people in ways that other people can’t,” he said.
Mata recalled a specific memory that cemented his decision when he was about 12 years old.
He heard someone at the back door of his home when he was alone with his mother.
The door was locked and Mata thought the person trying to open the door was his sister.
He went to the front door of the house and locked the front door.
“I did that, thinking nothing of it, except to be ornery,” Mata said. He remembered it like it was yesterday, he said.
But the person at the door wasn’t his sister.
A man with blood on his face was pounding on the door, trying to get inside.
“To see (it) was pretty unsettling,” he said. “I told (my mother) to call 911. She was frozen stiff. She couldn’t physically bring herself to go to the phone.”
Mata called 911 himself and waited with his mother for the police to come.
“It seemed like a lifetime. It was only probably a couple of minutes,” he said. “It was a cheap door, but for some reason that guy couldn’t get through.”
Mata said he made an escape plan with his mom, which involved running out the back door.
The only thing he could find to defend them both was a steak fork.
“Like I’m going to be some kind of trained martial artist with a steak fork,” he joked. “In retrospect, he was probably intoxicated, probably got into a fight and was at the wrong house.”
He said he is unsure of what happened to the man, but that experience stayed with him.
“It was that experience that just kind of set a feeling that evolved in me throughout the years — you know: what do I want to do with my life?” Mata said.
“To be there when there is no one else to help is a good feeling. There’s different things you see in law enforcement … tragedy that law enforcement has to run to, instead of away from like the rest of the world.”
Mata has no clear goals for the future of his career, but eventually he would like to teach in some capacity.
“I tend not to think too far ahead. In the world of law enforcement, things can change rather quickly,” he said. “I want to focus on what I can contribute to my agency and the community.”