Police build bridges with Latinos through Spanish Citizens’ Academies – Orange County Register

Many of those who participated speak little English. Yet over the 10 weeks they spent mingling with law enforcement, no one asked for their proof of residency.

Thirty-five students got an up-close look at the Tustin Police Department during its inaugural Spanish Citizens’ Academy, an offshoot of the city’s 20-year program conducted in English. The academy teaches residents how they can partner with police to make their neighborhoods safer.

About 40 percent of Tustin’s 80,000 residents are Latino. “We were missing out on a large segment of our population,” Lt. Bob Wright said. “Our goal is to build bridges.”

On a recent evening, the graduates gathered for a ceremony at the Old Town community center. They took home not only diplomas but also a heightened awareness of their own roles in battling crime.

It starts with viewing police as allies rather than as antagonists, students said.

“I am not afraid now to call the police and ask for help,” said Jose Luis Ramirez, 45, a mechanic. “I feel that I am part of the police family.”

That takeaway is precisely the objective, said Officer Diego Gomez, who spearheaded Tustin’s program. “We assure people that we are not interested in their immigration status,” he said. “Our job is to help them.”

La Habra was the first city in the county, and remains one of the only in the state,…

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