Updated: May 1
By Jean-Paul Salamanca
Southampton Town Police and an East End nonprofit are teaming up to resurrect a program to help promote understanding and trust between law enforcement and Southampton’s Latino community.
The Sagaponack-based Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, which promotes social, economic and educational development among Latinos, will work with the police department this winter to help screen applicants for the civilian police academy program.
“What we’re looking at is civilian understanding of what law enforcement is doing, and building up that understanding and trust,” said Minerva Perez, the nonprofit’s executive director.
The civilian academy, which is scheduled to start in March, had been a longstanding program in the community until it was deactivated a few years ago due to lack of funding and manpower, according to Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph, who is coordinating the program with Perez.
“It’s a great way to expose that side of the community to police work,” Ralph said. “It will allow them to learn what we do and to build trust.”
Ralph, the department’s Freedom of Information Officer, said the department’s members had noticed that some Latino residents have been afraid to call police, even if they have been victims of crime, because of their legal status.
“We don’t want a portion of the community to feel that if they call us, that we are going to send you out of the country,” Ralph said. “That is not what we’re about. That’s not what any police department is about.”
To participate, residents will be pre-screened and must meet age, background and time commitment requirements. They will undergo a 12-week intensive training program and learn about the challenges, daily operations and dangers that police face, and receive hands-on training in how police conduct building searches and traffic stops. At the end of the program they will accompany veteran officers on their tour to experience a day on the job.
Perez will lead six weeks of diversity training for Southampton police officers that is designed to provide insight into the Hispanic community through class exercises and discussions. Local Latino residents may also be brought in as guest speakers.
Perez worked on similar initiatives with the town’s police when she was executive director of The Retreat, an East Hampton-based domestic violence shelter, and said she is excited about the opportunity to work with the department again.
“It won’t be just me talking, it’s also a lot of listening of things [police officers] would like to see,” Perez said. “What kinds of miscommunication they find, what kinds of ways will be better for them, what information that’s lacking that is going to help them do what they do best.”