Latinos, police form bonds at Hispanic Citizens Academy - 8 News NOW

Latinos, police form bonds at Hispanic Citizens Academy

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LAS VEGAS - The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department recently completed its 14th Hispanic Citizens Academy. The academy gives students a chance to learn about issues affecting the local Latino community.

For 12 weeks, 50 students sat through three hour-long, weekly classes - listening to police officers and guest speakers discuss topics affecting the Latino community in Las Vegas. Issues include gang violence, immigration and human trafficking.

“(The goal is) to educate the Hispanic community whether they're here illegally or not about the laws in Nevada and the rights within the law,” said Hispanic Citizens Academy Director David Cienega, a Metro Police officer. “By doing that, we help them assimilate into the community."

The latest Hispanic Citizens Academy began in early February. Many people attended the event, but were slow to engage in discussion. Students seemed reluctant to ask questions.

Julio Lolo attended one of the classes. He's an undocumented immigrant from Peru.

“We have a bad perception of police, because of what we’ve lived through in our countries of origin,” he said via a translator.

Lolo, like some of his classmates, says he has been a victim of police corruption in his home country. He says he enrolled in the academy to put his doubts to rest.

“What are my rights and my civil duties?” he asked.

Police corruption in countries south of the border is not the only reason some Latinos do not trust police. Officer Cienega says people illegally living in the U.S. are less likely to report emergencies to police out of fear they might be deported.

“Once they attend the academy, and they really go through it, and as thorough as we are in the education, they come away with, 'Oh, it wasn't true at all, that's just a myth,’" he said.

At the beginning of the Hispanic Citizens Academy, many students seemed intimidated. By the end of the class, they were interacting with one another.

“We're starting to notice that they are learning a lot more than they already did, or they're learning more, and they're learning about the things they did not know," Officer Cienega said.

By the third week, students seemed more comfortable and confident. They were asking questions and taking notes.

Miguel Garcia migrated from Mexico 14 years ago. He says he never had a positive encounter with police, until he attended the class.

“With time, Metro Police officers at the academy have gained my trust,” he said via a translator.

During the final meeting, the classroom atmosphere looked more like a family gathering. Students were socializing with each other and with the officers.

“The students aren't as timid as they were when they first came in,” said Metro Police Officer Carmen Tirado. “A lot of them, when they first got here, they really don't make eye contact. They kind of just (go) straight from the door to their seat to open up their notebooks."

Lolo brought a camera to snap photos of his experience at the academy.

“I’m very grateful to Metro Police,” he said.

Metro will host a graduation ceremony Wednesday for the 50 students. The Hispanic Citizens Academy is held twice a year. The next one begins in early September.

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