Hispanic Community Policing Academy Graduates New ‘Ambassadors’

Hispanic Community Policing Academy Graduates New ‘Ambassadors’

Program helps bridge gaps, heighten awareness

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Recent graduates of the Community Academy for Spanish-Speaking Residents show off their newly-earned training certificates.

Via Montgomery County Police

The latest 42-member class of the Community Academy for Spanish-Speaking Residents graduated this week, pushing the number of participants to 200 in three years of the program.

The initiative is an offshoot of the Citizen Academy, a program started by Montgomery County Police in 1994 to increase awareness about what police do and the challenges they face.

Police Chief Thomas Manger started the Spanish-speaking classes in 2016 in response to the growing Hispanic population in the county, program coordinator Bernadette Goovaerts said.

“The vision of the police says that they have to protect all property and people who live, work or visit Montgomery County,” Goovaerts said. “It doesn’t say anything about immigration status there.”

About 20 percent of Montgomery County’s 1 million residents are Hispanic, according to 2017 Census Bureau data.

Latino and immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland is involved heavily in the county and a popular concern among members is a tenuous relationship with police, said CASA government and strategic relations specialist Julio Murillo.

Programs such as community policing academies assist with building trust in the community, especially when a Spanish-speaking option is available, Murillo said.

Not only do participants learn about law enforcement for personal use, they can also educate residents in a comfortable setting, helping to bridge the gap between Latinos and police.

“It’s a huge step for Montgomery County toward building a relationship with the community,” Murillo said.

The program kicks off with a class taught by Manger, then moves through police functions such as combatting drugs, handling domestic violence and protecting constitutional rights, Goovaerts said.

Each session includes 15 weekly, 2 ½ hour classes and any county resident over 18 can apply. There is no charge for the academy and graduates get a certificate and a photo with the chief.

The inaugural session took place in Rockville and had a dozen participants.

The program recently moved to Gaithersburg, but the February session will take place in East County, Goovaerts said, with a goal of covering all areas of the county. There are two sessions each year, and the summer 2019 class will return to Gaithersburg and be held at the Public Safety Academy, Goovaerts said.

Former students have formed their own group called The Association, allowing them to keep in touch and spread the word about the program, Goovaerts said.

“They’re all ambassadors of the police,” Goovaerts said. “They’re first job is to let other people know about us. That everyone who lives here, works here or visits here is entitled to the protection of the police.”

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