Pasco police officials weren’t sure what to expect when they decided to offer the city’s first-ever citizens academy for Spanish speakers.
The academies, which give citizens more in-depth knowledge of what it takes to be a police officer, have been a staple of police departments around the country for decades.
However, the courses in the Tri-Cities have traditionally been taught only in English.
Pasco police wanted to give the city’s large Spanish-speaking population the chance to attend classes.
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“It started out very slow, to the point we thought we were going to have to cancel it for lack of participation,” Pasco Sgt. Jamie Vaught said.
But police got the word out and recruited enough people that they were able to graduate the first class of 16 earlier this month.
The class size was smaller than the average group when the course is taught in English, but police are optimistic the program will grow and more people will show interest.
The course normally is a nine-week program, meeting for two hours weekly. Police officials decided that was too long for the first Spanish-speaking course, so they held two eight-hour classes on Saturdays, something they say worked well.
The participants were trained on topics ranging from criminal investigations, policies and procedures to how to operate an emergency vehicle, officials said. Most of the work was done in a classroom setting.
The course also fostered a conversation with citizens about the state of policing and the inner workings of the department.
“Questions in class will sometimes transcend what we teach actual police officers,” Vaught said. “It’s an opportunity to engage citizens one on one, and get an understanding of how they view our training and how they view the police department.”
The feedback so far from the citizens who participated has been encouraging, Vaught said. None in the class expressed interest in potentially joining the force, but most said the course was helpful to get a better sense of what it takes to be in the department.
The police department expects to hold another course in Spanish in the near future, and officials encourage anyone in the community to attend.
The course can help break down barriers in the community and open more doors for Spanish speakers to join law enforcement, Vaught said.
“Now having done it, we are hopeful word will get out,” Vaught said. “We really wanted to open the opportunity up for everybody to join in.”