Spanish Speakers Learn About La Habra Police Through Local Citizens’ Academy

By Jessica Peralta

The adult students were asked to step back, avert their eyes and cover their ears. Once the class was at a safe distance and waiting for the next part of the SWAT demonstration, they experienced an intense bright light and loud boom from the detonated flash grenade.

Amid the sound of car alarms activated by the explosion, the students watched in surprise and then broke into applause.

Learning how and why devices like these are used, is  just one of the many learning activities the participants in La Habra’s Spanish Citizens’ Academy, have had the opportunity to experience.

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez shows a Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy class various items used by the SWAT team. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez shows a Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy class various items used by the SWAT team.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Now in its fifth year, this program is very popular with our residents. “Each year, it is our goal to strengthen relationships within our community while, at the same time, providing a learning environment for our citizens,” said Sgt. Jose Rocha, who runs the six-week, Spanish language program held weekly from 6-9 p.m. at the La Habra Community Center. “It is our hope that, through this outreach, the community learns about their police department and asks questions about pertinent issues facing their neighborhoods.”

On this particular night of class, the 25 or so Spanish-speaking students learned about pet licensing, local wildlife, FireMed, the city’s ambulance subscription program, and volunteer services, like Radio Patrol and the chaplain program. Following the classroom instruction, the class attendees walked over to the nearby police station for the SWAT demo, where they could check out a fully-equipped SWAT truck and learn firsthand how flash grenades are used by SWAT as an effective distraction technique. The evening concluded with a presentation and demonstration by  police K9, Renzo, and his handler, Officer Amsony Mondragon.

La Habra PD Officer Amsony Mondragon allows students from a Spanish speaking Citizens Academy class pet his K-9 partner, Renzo, during a police dog demonstration. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Amsony Mondragon allows students from a Spanish speaking Citizens Academy class pet his K-9 partner, Renzo, during a police dog demonstration.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Students in the class asked a variety of questions and were met with entertaining and informative answers from Officer Ricardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez presented not only the lecture portion of the class, but the SWAT portion as well, since he is one of the members of the SWAT team who also speaks Spanish.

This is the second year Norma Perez has been in the Spanish Citizens’ Academy. A volunteer mom (her adult daughter also joined her in the class), Perez likes to keep involved and to learn new things. She admits that before starting the program last year, she was afraid of the police.

“Now I motivate others to participate more in order to have better community involvement,” she said in Spanish.

Norma Perez, center, a student in La Habra's Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy with La Habra Sgt. Jose Rocha, left, and Officer Ricardo Rodriguez. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Norma Perez, center, a student in La Habra’s Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy with La Habra Sgt. Jose Rocha, left, and Officer Ricardo Rodriguez.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

She believes it is important for community members to become involved and to take this opportunity to meet and learn about their local law enforcement.

“This is a great way to get to know them,” she said, adding that it comes in handy to know who everyone is in the department, in case issues arise in the community or individual neighborhoods.

She wants to encourage other members of the community to lose their fear of police and understand what law enforcement really does.

“They’re there to help us,” she said.

She has enjoyed what she’s learned so much that she finds it difficult to pick a favorite topic.

“All their work for me is something very big and valuable,” she said. “Every part of what they do – it’s at great danger, but it’s very valuable and wonderful.”

The next Spanish Citizens’ Academy will be held in September 2017. The Citizens’ Academy in English will be held in the spring. Applications for either upcoming session are available at the La Habra Police Department-or by contacting the department via email at citizensacademy@lahabraca.gov

Norma Perez talks about her experience in the Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy class put on by the La Habra PD. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Norma Perez talks about her experience in the Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy class put on by the La Habra PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez shows a Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy class items stored in a North County SWAT truck. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez shows a Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy class items stored in a North County SWAT truck.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Amsony Mondragon works with his K-9 partner, Renzo, during a demonstration for a Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy class. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Amsony Mondragon works with his K-9 partner, Renzo, during a demonstration for a Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez teaches a Spanish speaking Citizens' Academy class. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra PD Officer Ricardo Rodriguez teaches a Spanish speaking Citizens’ Academy class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC