With a collection of police officer discrimination and harassment lawsuits now working its way through the court system, it’s hard not to draw the connection between that troubled past and where the department hopefully is headed as it graduates the first class from its Spanish-language community academy.
The success of the endeavor comes as the Police Department, hounded by accusations that its ranks are insensitive to ethnic differences and out of touch with minorities, tries to repair its image. And by all accounts, it apparently hit a home run first time at bat.
As Jesus Ayala — one of 25 graduates from the Spanish-language academy — aptly pointed out, “The Latino community in Burbank doesn’t have a lot of information about the Police Department. But now I know.”
Even Burbank police officials acknowledged that they must do a better job of reaching out to Latinos and other minorities in an effort to better understand the city they are tasked with protecting.
Apparently, the class was so successful that officials say they plan to start an Armenian-language academy. Given that several of the plaintiffs in the discrimination lawsuits against the city are current and former Armenian American police officers, an academy targeted at that community would be an especially proactive show of goodwill and probably would be just as educational for the department as it would be for the students.
And it’s that exchange — lacking for so long — that begs the question for these tailored academies: Why weren’t these established sooner? The answer appears to rest, at least partially, with former Chief Tim Stehr.