Spanish speakers learning how to lose fear of police
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 11, 2006

Jacqueline Shoyeb
MESA - Maria Lua and her husband, both Mexican immigrants, said they often saw drug dealing and drug use at their Mesa apartment complex.

They wanted to get help and be safe, but misinformation and stereotypes about the police left them fearful.

So the Luas, who speak little English, watched helplessly until they finally just moved out.

But now, after taking a five-week course on the Police Department, taught entirely in Spanish, the Luas say they'll never let themselves be run off again.

"I didn't know where to go," Lua said. "I didn't know what to do. But with these classes, they taught me how to solve some social problems."

The classes the Luas and 15 other Latinos attended were started by the Police Department last year to educate the Spanish-speaking community on how the department works and to open communication between immigrants and the police.

The free course is similar to the Mesa Citizen Police Academy, but without the ride-alongs and facility visits. Class topics range from crime prevention to youth gangs to domestic violence.

In a city where Latinos account for about one-fourth of the population, a "bridge of communication" like this is sorely needed, said Gina Silva, program leader and an administrative assistant at the Mesa Police Department.

Silva said the relationship between the police and Latino immigrants in the city is weak largely because immigrants don't understand the laws and fear the police are corrupt.

"We deal with the police differently in our country," said Silva, who left Mexico 10 years ago. "You don't trust the police. If you ever have an accident, if you know that if the police get involved, you'll end up in jail regardless if you're innocent or not. There are just so many things that are different."