Building bridges between police and Latino high school students

As our community continues to grow, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department has built a program specifically for Latino high school students to form lasting relationships between students and officers.

“We hope to create better relationships with the Latino community. Let’s remember that one of our goals as a police department is to resemble the community that we serve, and one of the ways we can achieve this is by building precisely the kind of relationships we are doing with this program,” said Claudio Jiménez, officer at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Latino outreach community engagement unit.

This one-week, hands-on course is for young people who are interested in a career in law enforcement or students who would like to find out more about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The goal is to show them how law enforcement works and the options available to them for a future career with the CMPD.

“We are the first Latino group, and I think it is great because we are representing the community and breaking the misconceptions that exist when it comes to law enforcement,” said Gabi Villa Hernández. “You know, some people still think that the police are not there to help, but the truth is that they have been very helpful with us.”

Over the course of the week, students studied crime scene and criminal investigation, defensive tactics, traffic stops, suspect encounters, fitness and the many responsibilities of wearing the badge.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, like many others across the country, hosts a number of camps and opportunities for Charlotte youths.

“It really opens things up because our community fears the police. For example, when they get pulled over and the officer asks for an ID or driver’s license, there is confusion because the occupants think they are being asked for immigration documents, so having more Latino officers helps,” said Gerardo Galguera Jiménez, a program participant.

“We know that the Latino community in Charlotte is growing a lot and we don’t have enough Hispanic officers. We are taking in these students and showing them a little bit about what it means to be a police officer and how they can serve their community,” Jiménez said.

Interacting with kids sometimes presents special challenges to law enforcement officials.

It can be especially difficult in the current state of America, but there is an obvious feeling of cameraderie between students and the officers.

“It gives us more trust, absolutely, because there is always an element of fear in our communities and there should not be any form of fear. Our community needs to know that they can walk up to officers and ask for help like anybody else living here,” said Hernández.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.