Duluth Launches Hispanic Police Academy To Build Trust

Police Corporal Ingrid Smith gives an introduction to the first Hispanic Citizens Police Academy.
Credit Courtesy of Duluth Police Department / Duluth Police Department
Audio version of this story here.

Duluth police officers say some Hispanic residents are not reporting crimes, because the residents say they’re afraid of police.

To reduce some of their residents’ fear of law enforcement, the city’s police department launched its first Hispanic Citizens Police Academy, taught entirely in Spanish.

Duluth Mayor Don Woodruff said the city’s police department has heard of crimes after the fact and he wants more victims to come forward.

“Unfortunately, there are people who are intimidated because of where they come from. They don’t trust police and we’re trying to bridge that gap so we can help them,” Woodruff said. “We can’t do anything with the crime unless it’s reported. Until we know what’s going on, there’s nothing we can do to combat it.”

Hispanic Outreach

About 13 percent of residents in the city of Duluth identify as Hispanic or Latino. One of the leaders of the academy, Detective Javier Bahamundi, said he’s shocked when some Hispanic immigrants tell him about experiences they’ve had with police in their native countries.

“They told me when the police pull them over for any traffic violation they ask for money just to let them go,” Bahamundi said.

He said there’s a lot of misinformation in the community about how police operate in the United States.

In the academy, he teaches the students how officers can help them, what do in active shooter situations, domestic violence situations and traffic laws.

Hispanic residents in Duluth said another reason some don’t report crimes is that they fear they or a family member may be deported, according to Bahamundi. 

“The message is don’t be afraid of the police,” Bahamundi said. “We’re not going to deport anybody. We treat every single [victim] as any other person and we don’t care about the status of the person.”

Hispanic Citizens Police Academy

Norcross Police Sergeant Arelis Rivera said former Norcoss police chief Warren Summers asked her to organize the classes in Spanish. 

“What we were finding was that for every five crimes, only like two were being reported,” Rivera said. “And a lot of crimes were happening to the Hispanic community, but they wouldn’t report the crime because they didn’t want to be on the radar, so to speak.”

Bahamundi said the academy is modeled after the city of Norcross, which launched its classes in 2013.

To reach this fast-growing population, Bahamundi said the police department has an extensive advertising campaign on local Spanish radio and television channels.

He said there’s great demand for the class; 30 students have signed up and he plans to offer another class later this year.

Rivera said the city of Brookhaven has also reached out to Norcross to begin its own Hispanic Citizens Police Academy this year.