Breaking News
More () »

Brookhaven relaunches Citizens Police Academy for Spanish-speakers

This months-long, free program teaches Spanish-speaking citizens how the department operates.

BROOKHAVEN, Ga. — After a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Brookhaven Police Department re-launched its Citizen's Academy for Spanish speakers.

This months-long, free program teaches Spanish-speaking citizens how the department operates. That includes teaching them about traffic enforcement, 911 operations, active shooter training, and mental health lessons.

Marvin Chavajay, who is originally from Guatemala, is one of this year's 23 participating citizens.

"One of the things I learned is we have to make sure for the 911 dispatcher to give us a very good service, find out first what is the location," Chavajay said.

Chavajay has been a Brookhaven resident since 2001 and first participated in the program in 2018.

"We need it because the Hispanic community, many of us come from other countries and just work, work, work. When something happens, we don’t take action," he explained. "Sometimes because we don’t have the time or sometimes because we don’t know what to do. So that’s why I think it’s a very, very good program for all of us.”

Patrol Sgt. Carlos Nino started this program in 2016 and Community Engagement Officer Angela Hawkins has helped take the reigns since. The program had to take a brief pause during the pandemic and is back for more.

“What they know from where they come from is completely different," Nino explained. "(They) don't trust whatsoever in the police departments of their countries of origin. They believe that if they call 911 here in Buford Highway, they're going to get a similar response to what they are used to back in their countries. It's important to us that they understand the difference, that that's not the case here."

Brookhaven Police say this academy is helping them build trust and break the language barrier with the Spanish-speaking community.

"Through the scenarios (we are putting them through) they will understand why an officer enters a certain way, then you get (to) understand that 'it's not because they're trying to stereotype me.' It's not because they're trying to be mean. Everything is done for a reason," Hawkins explained.

Nino says over 100 families have graduated from the program. He believes about 90% of Buford Highway residents are native Spanish speakers.

"We do not care about their immigration status. They're going to go through a vetting process to make sure that they're good to go, but their immigration status, we don't care about," he said. "The Buford Highway corridor is a melting pot of Mexican, Central American and South American residents. We did this as a way for us to expand our outreach and bridge the gap.”  

Chavajay says he’s already been able to take some of the lessons back to his church, family, and friends.

"It gives me a lot of trust," he said. "Everything I learned from here I can use it for myself, for my family, and I've been using it, too."

In addition to this academy, Hawkins says the police department has two Spanish-speaking staffers on-hand during every shift.

"I love when they're able to ask questions and their questions can be answered because they are misinformed," she said. "Whatever the matter is, we have bilingual officers for every department. So if they need something, we are here to provide it for them."

Before You Leave, Check This Out