KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anyone is welcome to attend the Kansas City Police Department’s first Spanish Citizens Academy at St. Anthony's on June 9.
This Spanish initiative is the first of its kind in the metro on the Missouri side.
"One thing we know for fact is that when communities don't have trust in the police department or have a positive relationship, they end up becoming the most exploitable to career criminals," Officer Chato Villalobos said.
That's why KCPD is partnering with leaders in the northeast to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the Latino community, especially Spanish speakers.
They are holding the Spanish Citizens Academy at St. Anthony's parish on Benton and hope the location will help ease some anxieties. All people need to do is show up; they'll learn the ins and outs of the police department to gain understanding and, hopefully, trust.
Villalobos said over the last 15 years he's seen the Spanish-speaking population boom and expand out from Kansas City's west side and northeast to places like Belton, Olathe, and Overland Park.
"The demographic has always existed here, but it's growing and we want to make sure the people who do speak Spanish, that they understand you can call 911 and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that you have the service. So language isn't a barrier," Villalobos said.
Villalobos is on the forefront of the new initiative under Chief Rick Smith's guidance.
Father Andres Moreno is the priest at St. Anthony's. Many immigrants sit in his pews. He talks to many folks from Africa and Asia, but the majority are Latino.
"We have people coming every single day for mass. 'Father, can I talk to you after mass?' 'Father, can I make an appointment,'" Father Moreno said.
Father Moreno finds that many of his parishioners often come to him with a major problem rather than calling the police. He likes to tell his parishioners that he is just a spiritual superhero, but also turning to the superheroes on the street can help.
"That is one of the reasons why I am so hopeful that this program with the police department will really help the community get rid of that fear. That they will be safer in this area, and they will be able to have a family in the future," Moreno said.
The big concern for immigrants and Spanish speakers in the northeast is security, Moreno said. The area is often in the news for crime and drugs, but Moreno sees many young families moving in the area hoping to make a good life.
The goal of the citizens academy is to bring communities up and keep families safe.
It hits home for Villalobos.
"My parents were immigrants from Mexico, and Spanish was their dominant language, and where I grew up there's a lot of families that were like mine. I'm a very proud police officer for my police department to do something like this for the community. I'm just excited," Villalobos said.
The Spanish Citizens Academy runs for three weeks on June 9, June 16, and June 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone is welcome and no sign-up is required.