The Kent County Sheriff’s Office is working to make sure all communities feel included — both on the force and while responding to calls.
It just wrapped up its first-ever Latin-X academy, which is specifically targeted to West Michigan’s Hispanic population. It may even be the first in the entire state.
The six-week class started Aug. 19.
Participants met every Thursday night for 90 minutes. This week, 15 people graduated from the program.
They learned how the sheriff’s office operates and toured the jail, dispatch center, and watched demonstrations with the K-9 unit, and even watched a felony traffic stop with real emotions.
“I could feel how an officer would feel — you know, sometimes being in fear and you just never know what type of stop that would be,” said graduate Marilyn Grullon.
Participants also spoke with the crime scene unit and detective unit, toured interview rooms, talked about volunteer and employment opportunities, and learned about victim advocates.
“This academy is the same thing as a citizens police academy but in Spanish,” said Sgt. Oswaldo Hernandez.
He’s one of several Spanish-speaking officers on the force.
Their goal was to make sure the Hispanic community felt more at ease asking questions.
The Latino community is rapidly growing here, and the department wanted to be more transparent.
“This whole academy is in Spanish. All of our instructors are in Spanish. So, everything that we do here is all in Spanish,” said Hernandez.
Jose Salinas, a recovery mental health coach for Network 180, graduated from the program as well.
“So, they can have a better understanding and not be as apprehensive about being able to utilize those services when they need them,” said Hernandez. “Being able to call and not feeling afraid or not trusting the ability to communicate with our sheriff.”
Not just the sheriff but other officers too. From possible concerns over racial divides and language barriers, it helped everyone feel more connected.
“I would say every single officer here was so respectful and so welcoming,” said Salinas. “The hospitality was just incredible. So, I think it speaks a lot to building that relationship with the members of our community."
The sheriff’s office tells us the academy was so successful it plans to offer it again next year and make the classes longer.
It may possibly even become an annual event.