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July 23, 2014

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Metro’s Hispanic Citizens Academy aims to teach, develop trust

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Ana Ley

Officer Miguel Chavez talks about local gangs with participants at the Hispanic Citizen’s Academy held by Metro Police on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013.

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Metro Officer David Cienega, director of the Hispanic Citizen's Academy, gives directions to those gathered for an orientation session at Metro headquarters Feb. 29, 2012. The 11-week, Spanish-language course teaches students about their rights as Nevada residents and how to work with police in combating crime.

Officer Miguel Chavez hit the play button, and a short video projected in the elementary school’s cafeteria showed a group of teenagers gunning down a boy on a sidewalk.

“Ese es un drive-by shooting,” Ulyses Ramirez told his adult classmates matter-of-factly.

The others watched wide-eyed as the simulated shooting ended and Chavez, a detention officer with the city of Las Vegas, listed the dangers of gang affiliation.

The class, taught Wednesday at Hollingsworth Elementary School, was the fourth three-hour installment of this season’s Hispanic Citizens Academy, a biannual program put on by Metro Police since 2007.

The goal of the academy is to teach non-English-speaking valley residents their rights and responsibilities, said Officer David Cienega, director of the academy. It also aims to develop trust between officers and Hispanic residents, some of whom may be afraid to approach police for fear of deportation.

“We don’t care if people are here legally or illegally,” Cienega said. “We don’t want people to have fear of being deported by (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

Ramirez, a decades-long Las Vegan, said he signed up for the classes because he wanted to understand laws and because he wanted to learn how to teach his grandchildren to stay off the streets and out of trouble.

“A lot of us don’t know our rights,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “I was once jailed for having (outstanding) tickets. It was just a lack of knowledge.”

Participants are given lessons on subjects that include officer-involved shootings, domestic violence, narcotics and human trafficking. They also are taught how to seek victim services and U.S. citizenship.

Robert Alvarez, a longtime security guard enrolled in the class, said he hoped to better learn what to look for on the job.

“I want to be able to know what to do,” Alvarez said. “I want to know how to write a report for police.”

Elsa Romero, who moved to the United States a year ago, said she came to the academy after learning about it at her daughter’s school.

“It’s very interesting,” Romero said. “I want to learn about all the subjects offered.”

Born from a desire to build ties between officers and Hispanic Las Vegans, the 12-week program normally will accept as many residents as enroll for it. But for the first time, organizers this session cut off enrollment at 45 participants.

“All I can say is the economy caught up to us,” Cienega said, noting participants receive free child care services provided by volunteers. Participants now also are offered spiffier and more expensive learning materials and graduation diplomas.

“I don’t like to have to limit the number of participants,” Cienega said, “but we had to make some concessions to balance our budget.”

Those interested in participating in the academy’s upcoming classes can call (702) 828-1999 for more information. The next course is scheduled to start in February.

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