18 graduate Hamilton’s Hispanic Citizens Police Academy

‘Police need our help,’ participant says.

The idea for Hamilton’s Hispanic Citizens Police Academy came in 2005 after the rape of a child by a Hispanic man fueled tensions in the city.

More than a decade later, and amid police-community relation problems throughout the country, 18 members of the latest Hamilton class graduated and talked about serving as ambassadors for unity.

“We can work together,” said Julio Pineda, a graduate and a pastor who is a native of Guatemala. “The police are not working against us.”

Many of the 2016 graduating class are part of Iglesia Alpha Y Omega Baptist Church in Forest Park and live and work throughout the region.

Pineda said he can be a person the undocumented immigrants can turn to if they see or hear anything about a crime or problems in their neighborhood.

“They don’t want to go to police, but they can come to me and I can pass it to police,” he said.

During four weeks of classes, students were taught about crime prevention, the justice system, what to do if they are a victim of crime and what to if they witness a crime, according to Officer Eric Taylor, who is Hispanic and helped with translation during the sessions. Participants also took a trip the police range to try their hand at simulated shooting and learned about the role of the SWAT unit.

Taylor, a native of New York City, was born to Colombian parents. He has been on the force for 17 years after marrying is wife, who is from Ross.

“It is about letting them know how to help us help them,” Taylor said.

The specialized police academies are labor intensive and costly in tight budget times, but something the police department wants to continue, said Police Chief Craig Bucheit.

“It helps build trust in the community,” Bucheit said.

An academy graduate even helped solve a crime in 2008 by providing vital information in the murder of Gloria Applegate. Her killer is now serving 33 years to life in prison.

“That person felt comfortable enough to bring information to us,” said Sgt. Brian Robinson.

That information led to a gun being found and other evidence that convicted Daniel Estrada-Lopez.

Israel Pablo brought his two children to graduation Thursday, as did others.

“I learned how to work with the police and the community. Police need our help. We can see what is wrong in our community and tell them (officers). And help those who get in trouble not get in trouble again,” Pablo said.

Before receiving gradation certificates, officers and graduates shared a meal — pizza provided by officers and plenty of homemade specialties from the students. Both were a hit. Bucheit got a loud round of applause when he said he especially enjoyed the empanadas.

The crowd raised their hands as Pineda offered a prayer for the officers and his friends.

“Thank you for every officer and letting us enjoy this time together. Bless us,” Pineda said with Taylor translating.

The chief said the department wants to continue citizens academy efforts in all areas of the city. He urged interested groups and neighborhoods to contact the police department.