NORTH CANTON  North Canton Police Department's Michael Ataya was one of two patrolmen in the county to receive the Traffic Officer of the Year award from Stark County Safe Communities.

Ataya has worked with the department for more than five years. He was nominated by North Canton Chief of Police Stephen B. Wilder because of the positive impact he has on the department and the community.

Ataya was responsible for 40 percent of the OVI (Operator of Vehicle while Intoxicated) stops made by the department in 2016, along with many other traffic violations. He has volunteered to serve on the Stark County OVI Task Force and participates in state, county and city safety campaigns such as "Click It or Ticket" and "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over."

"Patrolman Ataya has demonstrated a sincere willingness to help and protect the public at all times and he recognizes that traffic enforcement is key to decreasing crashes, injuries and fatalities on our streets and roadways," said Wilder.

Ataya works the nightshift (10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.). He started part-time with the department and became full-time in 2012. Wilder said Ataya travels up to 100 miles a night in his patrol zone. His productive performance is what compelled Wilder to nominate him.

In 2016 alone, Ataya had 29 criminal arrests, nine crash reports, issued 226 parking tickets, issued 213 written orders, issued 51 traffic violations, stopped 10 driver’s license violations and had 33 OVI arrests out of the 88 total for the department.

He is also responsible for the recovery and criminal charges filed on motorists improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle. In three of those incidents, the weapon was loaded and ready at hand by the driver during the traffic stop. Ataya has recovered small quantities of various drugs on the people in the vehicle in most of his traffic stops.

When not assigned to an OVI Task Force detail, he continues to help other members of the police department who are working on task force details.

Ataya graduated GlenOak High School in 2003. He attended Stark State College and earned an Associate of Applied Business Management degree. He is first-generation Lebanese born in America and he’s a member of the Lebanese American Association of Stark County.

"I wanted to become a police officer in part since I was growing up and my father owned a wine boutique and liquor store in Canton, I was always fascinated by the police officers that would stop by to check on us," wrote Ataya in an email interview. "I enjoyed learning about history and law going back to ancient Rome. I was even more intrigued to learn that the first school of Roman Law was in Beirut, Lebanon, which is located near my father’s village in Lebanon. I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be a police officer. We all come from different backgrounds and I feel that my background and experiences have molded me into the man I am today. I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the North Canton Community."

He wanted to work for North Canton Police Department because it was the first department to take a serious interest in him. After researching the City of North Canton a little more, he believed he would be a good fit for the community. 

Ataya wrote he is honored and humbled by being recognized, adding that he shares the award with his co-workers who he attributes for helping him achieve the award.

"My fellow officers back me up and provide guidance and assistance in difficult situations," Ataya wrote. "Our dispatchers are vital in providing us with the information that we need and readily relaying pertinent information. They can quickly recognize the subtle changes of my voice and start to dispatch back-up before I even ask for it. Together, as a team, I think we all do a great job."

He wrote that he continues to learn something new every day on the job and that no matter how small or petty an issue may sound, it’s a big issue to the person requesting services. That has taught him to respect every call of duty and that there is no such thing as just a routine traffic stop. 

"It is not a job to be taken for granted," Ataya wrote. "Police officers are always going into an unknown situation, and sometimes we have to make split second decisions. I learn something new every day and hopefully it makes me better in all aspects of life. At the end of the day, we just want to make it home to our families."

Ataya thanked Sgt. Shawn Bates for recommending him as Stark County Safe Communities Traffic Officer of the Year and Chief Wilder for submitting the nomination.

"I like Patrolman Ataya’s motivation and ambition," said Wilder, who recentley retired after serving 36 years on the North Canton Police Department. "He uses his unique talents and sincere willingness to promote and enforce traffic safety. His productive performance reinforced my decision to nominate him for this special recognition. He’s made a positive impact on the community and is well liked by the other officers and by people in the community. I’m  proud to have served with him."

Patrolman Jeffry Hothem of the Canton Police Department was the other recipient of the Traffic Officer of the Year award.