For 20 years, Jesus Ayala has been waiting for an opportunity to get to know the police officers who patrol his city.
He finally got his chance earlier this year.
And this week, Ayala and 24 classmates completed an almost three-month Spanish-language community academy offered by the Police Department — the first of its kind in Burbank and perhaps the only one in the area, Officer Cindy Guillen said.
“I hadn't heard about police reaching out to the Latino community,” Ayala said. “I wanted to be there, to know how they work. The Latino community in Burbank doesn't have a lot of information about the Police Department. But now I know.”
Guillen, who conducted many of the Spanish-language classes, acknowledged police had lagged on the outreach front.
“It is true, we haven't had [the outreach] until now,” she said. “That's why we're very excited about this project. This is a first for us.”
The community academy, which has been offered in English since 2000 as a way for residents to better understand the department, usually is offered twice a year.
Twenty-three people participated in an English-language academy, held concurrently with the Spanish-language academy. Both began in January.
Spending roughly three hours a week at the police station for 13 weeks wasn't a burden for Ayala. On the contrary, he said, “I felt it was too short.”
“I wanted to have more things explained and I think there should be more opportunities to involve the community in this program,” he added.
Even before Wednesday's graduation, Ayala said, he was talking to friends, family and neighbors about his participation in the program, but they had reservations about participating.
“The people I talked to say it sounds good, but they are afraid to be investigated,” Ayala said. “Before police can recruit for the next class, they might have to do more outreach.”
He suggested police spend more time at events sponsored by the parks and recreation department to have more interaction with Latinos who often attend.
Sgt. Darin Ryburn, who was involved in one of the first community academies, agreed.
“We've done that in years past … and want to be able to forge more relationships at city events,” Ryburn said. “We are out there, and we see ourselves increasing our activities at community events.”
Police also want to have the course material translated into Armenian and develop a cadre of instructors for an Armenian-language academy, which they hope to have operational by fall.
Ryburn said that some of the Spanish-speaking graduates will become neighborhood watch block captains and will facilitate direct contact with specific neighborhoods.
“For the department this is huge, because we now have a group of individuals in the community we can call on for assistance,” he said.
Glendale had to eliminate its English-language academy due to budget cuts. Pasadena doesn't offer one.