YAPHANK, N.Y. - Milagros Soto is breaking down barriers in the Suffolk County Police Department. She is the department's first Hispanic deputy chief and its highest-ranking woman.
"Not many women have ascended through the ranks," Soto said.
Soto comes from a big Puerto Rican family. She grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
"Our mother was really the individual who really saved my life and my siblings' life," she said.
The youngest of 11 children, she said her brother Pedro was her inspiration. In 1973, he became an NYPD officer. He was sadly killed in a motor vehicle accident just a year later.
Soto said she recognized even at that very young age the impact that her brother had in their community.
"He was one of the very few Hispanic officers that patrol the area," Soto said.
She took that same path. In 1988 at the age of 25, she joined the Suffolk County Police Department. She was assigned to the Fourth Precinct, where she was the only person in the precinct who spoke Spanish. It was there when she realized that the community needed someone like her — someone who could break the language barrier and create relationships between police officers and the community.
In October 2016, at the height of the MS-13 gang violence in Suffolk County, she was promoted to deputy inspector and became second in command at the Third Precinct.
She was promoted to inspector in 2019 and then deputy chief in August 2020 and the commanding officer of the Internal Affairs Bureau.
"It's an opportunity to be part of the solution to be able to foster positive change within the department itself and most importantly within the community that we serve," Soto told Fox 5.
Soto takes her role as deputy chief very seriously. She has the experience as she spent five years as an investigator in Internal Affairs. She is aware of the power she holds and hopes she can inspire young Latinos.
"I came from humble beginnings and here I am today," Soto said. "And if I could do it, there is no reason why you can't."