For Mohammad Tabiai, it’s been a productive process of immigrating from Morocco and ending up an award-winning police officer in the Oklahoma City Police Department.
After having received several letters of commendation from his commander, he then received a commendation for exceptional service from the Oklahoma City Council Tuesday.
The city named him South Oklahoma City Kiwanis Police Officer of the Year for 2016. He has been with the department for four years.
The commendation cited his initiative in locating two suspects in a child abuse case and then, later in the year, a suspect in a shooting.
Free Press spoke to Tabiai after the ceremony and asked him what it meant to be a highly-respected police officer after having immigrated into the country a little over a decade ago.
“This might sound like a cliché, but I really, really just feel privileged to serve the community,” Tabiai said.
He came to Oklahoma City in 2002 right after the 9-11 attacks on New York City. He said he was not sure what to expect, but then “I was quickly absorbed into the community with open arms.”
“Oklahoma City has been a great, great community for me. I really, truly feel privileged to serve,” said Tabai. “Every day I put on the uniform I feel honored to just come out and do the best to serve the citizens in any capacity I can.”
Tabiai patrols the south side of Oklahoma City out of the Southwest Division. It’s an area where Hispanic, white and black cultures all mix.
“It’s a true cultural diversity in there,” said Tabiai. “You can drive on any major street and you can see it, day in and day out.”
He said that sometimes he is mistaken to be of Hispanic origin since he has a similar complexion. But he quickly added that “it’s nothing that I can’t correct pretty quickly.”
His commander at the Southwest Division, Major Nick Elias, was eager to tell what he appreciated about Tabiai.
“I respect this guy. He’s got a warrior’s heart. He is a solid police officer,” said Elias. “A lot of times we give awards for one big deal, something heroic. This guy every single day goes out and really looks to help people, not just to throw people in jail.”
Elias said that Tabai has been determined to catch sexual predators and especially those who prey on children.
“He’s relentless,” said Elias. “So, I’m very honored to have him at my division.”
Later Free Press caught up with Captain Paco Balderrama, public information officer for OKCPD, who was also quick to praise Tabiai’s work in the department.
“What’s different about Mohammad is that he scratches the surface,” said Balderrama. “When he gets some information – limited as it may be – he’ll search around, he’ll call around, he’ll do some research and then he’ll get the bad guy.”
Balderrama said that the department has many officers who are tenacious, “but he’s just one guy who stands out.”