Maria Lomeli acknowledges the existence of misinformation and misunderstanding within the Latino community when it comes to law enforcement.
Some Latino residents even fear the police, the mother of four said.
So, participating in Tustin Police Department’s Spanish Citizens Academy was hugely beneficial, said Lomeli, who was among 22 residents who recently completed the 10-week academy, gaining comprehensive insight into every facet of the Tustin PD.
Lomeli was left with a better understanding of what the police do and why they do it.
“It connects you with the police department as a part of the community that you would normally be outside of,” Lomeli said. “It shows another perspective. There is a lack of knowledge in the (Latino) community and this helps bridge the gap and introduces these citizens to the (police) programs.”
Presented by Spanish-speaking officers, participants learned about police protocols and procedures. They received an overview of the gang and K9 units, officer-involved shootings, the patrol division and investigative unit.
The most recent academy class received a presentation from the Orange County Fire Authority and visited the Orange County Coroner’s Office.
“Before, the (Spanish-speaking residents) had an opinion but now it’s a little more educated,” said Officer Diego Gomez, one of the organizers and instructors for the academy. “Now they can actually back that opinion up with what they have learned.”
Class members received certificates of completion during a special ceremony Nov. 15 at the Miller Community Center, adjacent to City Hall.
“It is important for us in the police department to serve the Latino community as much as we are serving the entire community,” Police Chief Charles Celano said to the academy graduates. “It is very important that you know what we are doing in the police department.”
With 40 percent of Tustin’s 80,000 residents being Spanish speakers, strengthening relationships with the Latino community is the key objective of the Spanish Citizens Academy, the chief said.
The department got word out to the Latino community about the academy by posting information on its website and through social media.
Officers even walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors to recruit academy candidates.
Academy graduate Guadalupe Arguijo heard about the academy from a friend.
Arguijo works as a cashier and signed up because she wanted to know more about what the police do.
“I didn’t know anything before, so I was interested,” she said. “All of the classes were amazing.”
Tustin PD has hosted the academy in English for decades.
The recently completed academy was the second Spanish Citizens Academy hosted by the Tustin PD.
The first, held earlier this year, had 30 participants.
A third is planned for the spring.
“I think the community is embracing it,” Gomez said. “I think it is a win-win.”