The message couldn’t be clearer.
“You are part of our community,” said Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela, speaking to the newest group of graduates from the department’s Hispanic Outreach program. “This is your police department just as much as it is anybody else’s.”
The group of 40 Hispanic residents had attended four two-hour classes, where they were educated on virtually every facet of their police department and empowered to make a difference in their own communities.
Among the topics: gang behavior, drug use and when to dial 911.
“We want to reach out to everyone in our community and let them know that we are the police for everybody and that our services are available to them,” said Sgt. Phil McMullin, one of the Hispanic Outreach facilitators within the Orange PD. “We don’t want them to be afraid to contact us when they need us or when they can be a witness for us or help us.”
The classes are well received by the community, the sergeant said, often drawing up to 70 residents.
For the fifth and final session, which took place March 29, class members who attended the previous four classes were rewarded with a tour of the department before receiving diplomas from the chief.
The graduates snapped plenty of photos along the way, capturing images of the department’s modular jail cells, containing only a cement slab for a bed and an uninviting stainless steel toilet and sink.
They watched an Orange PD K9 clamp his jaws around the padded arm of a volunteer, starting and stopping on command.
“This is like a treat for them,” said Laura Monzon, community engagement coordinator for the Friendly Center, a 93-year-old nonprofit that provides a variety of services to low- income families.
Orange PD and the Friendly Center have been partners on the Hispanic Outreach program for several years, focusing on residents in low-income Hispanic neighborhoods often besieged by crime.
“It’s important for them so they can teach their children and neighbors and be aware,” Monzon said of the program. ‘They feel proud they were invited. They are thankful to the police department because not every department would do this.”
After the last diploma were handed out, Chief Kisela delivered a parting message to the graduates:
“If you ever need anything please don’t hesitate to call us.”
After taking the classes, resident Mary Perez understands that the police department and the community need to be partners.
“The police department works with the community and the community works with the police department to have a safe community,” Perez said.