Smiles and hugs were in ample supply at a dinner honoring graduates of the first Spanish-language Tustin Police Department Citizens’ Academy on April 12.
Nearly 60 attendees, including the 33 graduates, their families and members of the Tustin PD, gathered at the Tustin Community Center to share dinner and gratitude for making what is likely a true difference in their communities.
The grads completed a 10-week course offered by the Tustin PD that lays out in detail what local law enforcement does and why.
Graduates learn about how and when officers use force, as well as topics like domestic violence, gangs, crime scene investigation, the traffic division, the K9 unit and even a visit to the shooting range. Officers also informed the group on what resources are available for victims of crime.
The effect on students was powerful.
“I honestly think this is one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” said Arlene Hurtado, who manages the 47-unit Pinetree Park Apartments complex. The officers she got to know through her job prompted her to sign up for the class.
Hurtado believes the academy can “spread the word” about what police really do and go a long way in alleviating the fear and misconceptions many Latinos have about law enforcement in general.
That’s exactly the goal for Tustin PD Officer Jorge Sanchez, who, along with Officer Diego Gomez, led the academy.
“I think it’s going to bridge the gap we have in our community,” said Sanchez. “Our goal was to give the community a chance to come into our house and feel welcomed … and supported.”
Sanchez said the knowledge gained from the academy is designed to “empower them to take ownership” of their neighborhoods, ultimately making them safer.
Deputy Chief Paul Garaven was thrilled by the results.
“Because there’s a language barrier, there’s a portion of the community we’re not reaching,” he said.
But Garaven praised the success of this first Spanish-language Citizens’ Academy, telling the gathering “these programs don’t happen without people putting a lot of time and passion into it.”
Garaven also told students to encourage their friends and neighbors to sign up for the course, and also hoped graduates would volunteer for the police department.
One of the academy students, local business owner Araceli Cazales, who created an after-school program that helps about 400 children a day in Santa Ana, believes the course really “opened minds” for those who chose to sign up.
“I feel like they were teaching us with love,” she said. “We gave them the feedback to continue this and they gave us peace of mind.”
Other pictures provided by the Tustin PD: