GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Sheriff’s Department is celebrating after graduating the first ever class of students from its Latinx Police Academy.
The Latinx Police Academy was a pilot program that ran for six weeks. On Thursday evening, 15 students finished the program just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month.
“At first, it seems like some people were kind of hesitant with the deputy presence but once people get to know us, we had great conversations,” said Sgt. Oswaldo Hernandez, who helped to coordinate the program. “This academy is important because we can provide transparency and also break down some barriers, like the language barriers that we have, so that they can ask questions and learn about our program.”
Students met once a week for an hour and a had to learn about traffic stops and the investigative process. They were also able to take tours of the dispatch center and jail.
Hernandez says the program is similar to the annual Citizens Academy, but this one is taught completely in Spanish.
“Honestly, I have never been in a room where so many officers looked like me and talked like me and we were able to share that same language,” said Javier Cervantes, who took part in the pilot program.
The sheriff’s office says its goal is to learn from the community it serves and bridge the gap between police and communities of color.
“Education is definitely important. Seeing how and where our law enforcement is coming from I think is important,” said Jose Selinas, who went through the program. “It was just incredible because you know all of the other sides that we see from law enforcement. I think we tend to focus on the negative side.”
Deputies say they are hopeful that the academy will inspire more people of color to join law enforcement agencies.
“I do understand that there is some mistrust there and this is part of us moving forward: them coming to this program and understanding the challenges that we face or what our department is all about. Once they get to know us, I’m sure it might change some people’s minds,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said the department is planning to host the program again next year and hopes to extend it for seven additional weeks. Dates are yet to be determined.
Some students say they will encourage others in the community to attend the academy.
“If we have people that have had the same lived experiences as us, I think they have a better understanding of how to work with people of color in our communities and having that better understanding will definitely make relationships much stronger,” Cervantes said.