Waco Police Department launches Spanish-language Unidos reconnaissance program

Christopher De Los Santos

Waco joined a growing number of Texas cities offering outreach to Spanish-speaking communities with Wednesday night’s kickoff for its Unidos initiative.

Unidos started in the Grand Prairie Police Department and expanded to Plano and 10 other police departments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as San Antonio, according to Unidos founder and Grand Prairie City Manager Steve Dye, speaking in Spanish at the meeting.

The goal of the operation is to build relationships and build trust between Waco’s Spanish-speaking communities and the police force, said Officer Anita Gomez.

A few dozen community members and more than a dozen police officers, mostly from Waco but also from Grand Prairie, Plano and Harris Counties, attended Wednesday’s meeting. All speakers at the event were in Spanish except for Waco Police Commissioner Sheryl Victorian, and Gomez interpreted for her. No translation from Spanish to English was provided, but each speaker’s key points could be understood: sharing their personal and family history, and speaking about goals for improving outreach to Spanish speakers.

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Unidos will advance Victorian’s goal of fostering positive interactions between the department and the community, she said.

“Unidos is another way to get everyone involved,” Victorian said. “Everyone in town should feel safe calling the police. Our job is to create a safe city for everyone.”

Victorian encouraged community members attending the Unidos launch meeting to tell their friends about the initiative.

Waco Police Officer Anita Gomez holds up a T-shirt that will be given out as a door prize Wednesday at the Unidos meeting at the South Waco Community Center.

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Rod Aydelotte, Tribune Herald

Police Department spokeswoman Cierra Shipley said Gomez was a key figure in introducing the Unidos program to the Waco Police Department. Gomez is a 15-year-old veteran officer who began her career in the Waco Police Department by serving 12 years on patrol and now serves in the Community Services Division.

“While I was on patrol and going from call to call, I saw the barriers faced by Spanish speakers who didn’t know the law and didn’t know the culture, but I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to help them.” help overcome them. ‘ Gomez said on Wednesday. “Now I have that time and I can help them.”

With Unidos, Gomez said her efforts to help Spanish speakers overcome barriers could be multiplied across the department.

“So many Spanish speakers are immigrants from other countries, and they bring the mindset from their country of origin: you can’t trust the police,” Gomez said.

She said that through officers who are fluent in Spanish and come from the same immigrant communities who reach out to Spanish speakers, the department can understand them and, in turn, help them understand Waco and improve their lives.

“It’s not just about getting witnesses to cooperate in an investigation,” Gomez said.

Unidos is also about providing help to Spanish speakers in practical areas, Gomez said. Dye mentioned banking in his presentation. Gomez said she wants to help people get ID documents, renew auto insurance, and meet other practical, everyday needs.

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