Evanston Police headquarters, 1454 Elmwood Ave. (Google Maps image)

Officially, the name is “Academia de Policia Comunitaria.”

And if you’re going to have a program for those in Evanston whose first language may be Spanish, what better idea than to put the program’s title in the language itself.

The Evanston Police Department’s first-ever Spanish Citizens Police Academy is now under way, taught entirely in Spanish.

Officer Cesar Galindo, one of those in charge of the academy, tells Evanston Now “there is a growing Hispanic population” in town, and so this is “a great opportunity to connect with the community.”

Evanston’s Hispanic population almost doubled between 2000 and 2020, from 6.1% to 11.2% of city residents.

EPD has had Citizens Police Academies since 1995, where participants learn about various aspects of police work.

In the past few years, however, due to COVID-19 and departmental staffing shortages, many such programs were either put on hold or done on Zoom.

But with the pandemic fading, and the number of officers starting to edge back up, Galindo says that the new chief, Schenita Stewart, said “let’s roll out CPA again, and why not in Spanish?”

The once-a-week-for-six-weeks academy began with a tour of police headquarters for the 17 participants. The program had filled up quickly, and may add another class member.

Galindo says there was “great feedback” from those taking part. Future subjects include investigations, crime scene analysis and citizen-police interaction.

In cooperation with the Northwestern University Police Department, there will also be a scenario similator, which shows the type of split-second decisions officers may have to make. (The simulator is sometimes referred to as training for “shoot/don’t shoot” situations).

Representatives of the Moran Center, a social justice organization, will explain citizens’ rights, and how to navigate the criminal justice system, which can be intimidating for anyone, let alone someone who does not speak English well or at all.

“I can imagine how difficult it would be to interact without speaking the language,” Galindo says.

Galindo says the language gap can “become an issue,” even in a relatively minor situation.

“I want to make sure that the citizen, the victim,” and even the suspect “all understand what’s going on.”

One of the biggest issues is trying to overcome suspicion or fear of the police among those who grew up in certain other countries.

Galindo says in some places, “policing is done differently.”

“It’s not community policing,” where officers try to get to know residents and business owners.

Many newcomers, Galindo notes, are “surprised how we do policing here,” and are “thankful.”

“They have a new perspective on police officers.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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